The truth is no one is immune to the struggles of life. And when crises arise in the lives of those we love, we all want to be the most supportive friend and family member possible. But do we really know how to do that? Here are the most tried-and-true ways to be effective in caring for your loved ones during difficult times.
1. Be a great listener
While empathy and compassion are two of the most valuable offerings you can make when supporting a friend through a hard time, they don’t mean a thing if you can’t listen deeply and without judgment. Sometimes, people don’t need us to do anything but hear them out. The skill of deep listening is the single most important gift to give when difficulty presents itself. Brush up on your active listening skills when times are easy by practicing presence in your everyday conversations. Listen to listen, not to respond.
2. Ask, ask, ask again
There is an interesting phenomenon that occurs during periods of crisis, where those experiencing difficulties are often unable to express in words exactly what would be most supportive. The question “Can I do anything to help?” is a reasonable way to approach a difficult situation, but if the person you are looking to support is overwhelmed — or not in the practice of receiving support — they will have trouble answering the call. Keep at it, sometimes it takes several attempts to put someone in crisis at ease enough to say exactly what they need. Rephrasing the question to ask something like “What do you need?” can also be an effective way to help your loved ones.
3. Get organized
When someone you love is under an acute amount of stress, it can be helpful to rally the troops. Reach out to their friends, co-workers, church groups, neighbors and family members to spread the workload around in terms of supporting them. Crowdsourcing efforts like meal trains, fundraising campaigns and carpools not only lighten the load for all involved, but they also build valuable community.
4. Know your strengths
When someone we love is facing a challenging situation, it can be easy to follow the impulse to do everything you can to support them. But this isn’t always the best way to proceed. Think about the tasks you are naturally good at so you can contribute in a way that is both meaningful and simple for you to execute. If you like to cook, for example, preparing nourishing meals to stash in your friend’s freezer will support them tremendously but won’t overtax your capacity to be supportive.
5. Be consistent
When the people we care for are under extreme pressure for an extended period of time — in the event of hospice care, for example — it’s important that you be consistent in your efforts to support them. Be honest with yourself about what a sustainable offer of support looks like, then commit to it. Your friend needs to know that they can count on you, so showing up in a stable and dependable way — whatever that looks like for you — is important.
6. Never underestimate the power of laughter
Don’t ever underestimate the power of laughter to heal and relieve tension. While no one appreciates careless sarcasm or out-of-touch and insensitive jokes during times of great intensity, the benefits of gentle and responsible humor are innumerable. Give yourself permission to find ways to laugh, whether it’s watching a favorite funny film with your friend, listening to a vetted comedy album or simply telling silly stories from the past. While your first instinct may be to keep things solemn during times of strife, with the right touch you’ll find that a good bout of laughter brings much-needed levity and joy to whatever you and your loved ones may be facing.
7. Don’t take anything personally
When times are tough, it’s easy for our not-so-tactful selves to make an appearance. Emotions can be high and sleep can be nonexistent, setting the stage for short fuses, outbursts and unkind words. While you never need to excuse bad behavior from anyone you care about, it’s important to maintain perspective. Don’t confuse your loved one’s request for privacy with rejection. Keep a neutral outlook at every turn during this process. Remember, it’s not about you.
8. Maintain your own self-care
When supporting those we love during crises, tragedy, illness and stress, it’s imperative that we prioritize our own self-care. Maintain your exercise regimen, eat healthy foods, stay in contact with your support system and include journaling or meditation and prayer at the end of a long day to help process what you are experiencing as a caretaker. Your loved one will benefit greatly from having you at your best during this time.
9. Keep your eye on the big picture
In every difficult situation, it’s easy to get caught up in a roller coaster of emotions and chaotic events. Try to zoom out and see the bigger picture. While things may seem overwhelming in the moment, with time, things will change. It’s important to remember that the best you can do is be present and offer deep compassion to both yourself and the person struggling. Relinquish control so that you can be available to what is really happening with your friend. While this time may feel extremely painful in the moment, you will never regret being available to your friend in their time of need. Take it one moment at a time, step back and give yourself some space, and then get back in there. The skills you are learning throughout this experience will stay with you for life and will continue to bless those you serve. Ground and center yourself with a few deep breaths before engaging with the person in need so you can respond in a kind and effective way, no matter what may arise.
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