If you know someone close to you is struggling it can be difficult to help them effectively. It’s a hard skill to get good at but here are some ways to try and be supportive.
Listen and help spot symptoms
Sometimes people are not aware that the problems they have are actually symptoms of stress. For example, if someone says they are suffering from insomnia they may be stressed are showing a physical symptom before feeling the emotional symptoms. If you notice someone has been more busy or more withdrawn and mentioned sleep trouble, you could ask them how they are doing and if you can help.
Listen to them
The point of conversations like this is not like a normal “chat” where you might seem like you are taking it in turns to say things at each other; really listen and understand where they coming from. Just getting their concerns out in the open is probably helping.
You don’t need to try and fix every problem someone tells you about. I know from experience that my instinct is to resolve problems but that isn’t the goal of a conversation like this. Reassure them and go with the flow and offer help later, if they want it.
How can I help?
Ask them if they want help first; if you being with an unprompted “here’s what you should do”, you may end up making them react defensively because we don’t like being told what to do, especially with unsolicited advice.
Reassure them they will be OK, and get through this tough time.
If you are both comfortable talking more deeply about what’s going on, then you can try to find out more and point out any changes you’ve noticed. Don’t be judgmental and don’t force the conversation. If you get the impression they are not comfortable going any further, then stop. They may well bring the subject up in the future, when they have processed their feelings further.
What to talk about
What causes them stress and what causes the most stress. Help them talk to these through and keep in mind there is likely some they don’t want to tell you. That’s fine. You don’t have to know to help.
See if you can suggest ways to reduce their causes of stress. You are just acting as a sound board. Don’t get offended if they don’t act on your suggestions. The fact there is ways out is already helping them feel less trapped. There may be ways you can help them but only offer if you want to help and capable of providing it.
Advise them about any of the stress coping strategies you know about. Share resources you might have heard about, or better yet, used yourself. This includes speaking to counsellors or GPs.
If you feel yourself becoming stressed as a result of helping another, it’s ok to step back. Try to remain calm and relaxed but it’s better to point them toward professionals rather you becoming overwhelmed.