Five Ways to Help People Who Are Having a Hard Time

Having a hard time is a pretty normal thing right now. Here are some tips that may help you to better support others (and yourself).

There are many people having a hard time right now. If you are one of them, please know that you are not alone. Feeling afraid, hurt, frustrated, or overwhelmed is a completely normal and reasonable reaction to a world that is filled with stress, filled with conflict, and constantly changing. Reach out if you need help (either from people in your life or professionals). 

If you know someone who is having a hard time right now, you might feel called to help. You might also feel a little lost in how to help, which can be frustrating and uncomfortable. Here are a few ways that you can offer help to others who you know are struggling right now:

Acknowledge what they are going through.

This can feel scary, and sometimes we don’t know what to say. Unfortunately, this discomfort can sometimes lead us to not saying anything at all, which can be isolating for people who are struggling. You can try simply offering empathy (e.g., “what you’re going through sounds really hard”) and, if you would like, asking whether they want to talk about it (e.g., “is it something you feel like talking about with me?”). These are statements that let the other person know that you are aware and thinking of them, without forcing a conversation if they are not in a place where they feel like talking about it. Avoid offering advice for how to resolve the problem unless you are explicitly asked for it. 

Talk to them (about something else).

Sometimes, when people are going through something really hard, it can take up a lot of space. It might be something that they talk about and think about all the time. It might be something that everyone asks them about (out of genuine curiosity and care), and it can start to feel like their whole lives are wrapped up in the hard thing. Reaching out to someone you know is having a hard time, offering to listen if they want, and then talking to them about something else can offer a sense of normalcy, and a connection and moment in their life that isn’t absorbed in what is most difficult.

.…they may not need us to “help” them with their problems. Instead, they may need us to help them feel connected and cared for as a person, and not just related to what is most difficult for them at that moment. 

Dr. Mollie Burke

Stay connected.

Again, we don’t have to make every connection about checking in on how they are doing. Try sending a text message that simply says, “thinking of you, sending lots of love.” Send an emoji heart, or an old picture of the two of you. Send a virtual hug, or tell them about something that reminded you of them today. Leave space that they may not respond, but offer things that can help them feel connected to you without putting them on the spot to have a conversation or share. 

Offer activities.

This can be tricky. Offering things to do and ways to spend time together can be a nice way to help people feel connected and supported. However, it is important to make sure that your tone isn’t pressuring. You might ask them directly (e.g., “Do you want to get together sometime?”), or you might inform them of something you’re planning on doing, and send them an open invitation in case they want to join (e.g., “I’m going to be grilling this weekend, and you’re more than welcome if you feel up for it!”). This gives them an option for something to do together, but also lets them know that they are welcome and wanted, even if they cannot make it. 

Give a gift.

It doesn’t have to be anything huge. It could be food or treats, like dropping off a bottle of wine, a little snack, or a coffee. It could be a note, a card, or some flowers. It could be a gift card to eat out, or a small gift basket of items for self-care (candles, lotion, face masks). It could be something really small, but that you know they love (e.g., a small plant, a nice pen, a book of crossword puzzles, a pair of comfy socks). It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. Even something small can be a nice way to let them know you are thinking of them, and help them feel special or taken care of during a hard time. 

Obviously, in any of these examples, you should use your knowledge of the person to make your decision. Use what you know of them, what they need, and what they like, and your relationship with them to help guide you. The main point is to remember that when someone is struggling, hurting, grieving, or going through something difficult, they may not need us to “help” them with their problems. Instead, they may need us to help them feel connected and cared for as a person, and not just related to what is most difficult for them at that moment. 


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