How to Act When a Friend Goes Through a Tough Time

It can be paralyzing to know what to say and do when a friend is going through something difficult. Rather than avoiding your friend or doing the wrong thing, try one of these sure fire ways to support someone, no matter what he or she is facing.

By: Ellen Foord
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Send Care Packages

It’s so tough to be far away from a friend going through a tough time, but don’t let the distance discourage your support. Remember how amazing care packages were when you were a kid? Now’s the time to bring them back. Pack small things to cheer up your friend, like cheerful stationery, or nonperishable treats like a gourmet chocolate bar. Lightweight items like gift certificates can be slipped in to treat your friend to a massage or facial. A super soft pashmina is easily packed and might be just the thing for your friend to cozy up with after a long day. 

Check In Frequently

If this is your first encounter with tragedy, grief, suffering, or struggle, it’s impossibly difficult to know what to say. But make the effort. Those going through a tough time are often isolated for exactly that reason: Friends don’t know what to say, so they stay silent. Maybe your friend doesn’t want to talk about their struggle. Your conversation about the funny thing your puppy did or where you found the most bonkers delicious tacos might actually be just the escape from reality your friend needs. No matter what, call, text, FaceTime, or email. Just check in often.

Deliver Meals

When times are tough, food can be the last thing on your friend’s mind. Dropping off easy to reheat meals is a thoughtful way to help unobtrusively. Even better, offer to drop the meal on the doorstep, so that if your friend isn’t up for guests or small talk, you can still lend a hand without causing stress.

Offer Heartfelt Words of Comfort

There is no circumstance ever, no matter what, in which cliches like those you hear repeated over and over are helpful. If you don’t know what to say, be there silently for your friend until you have something heartfelt to say. But avoid phrases like “everything happens for a reason” or “time heals all wounds.” At the very best, they’re empty platitudes. At the worst, they discount the very real pain your friend is experiencing.

Invite Your Friend For Dinner

Sometimes, returning to the normal routines of life can be daunting. That first time going out after something horrible happens can feel overwhelming. Offer a baby step to your friend by inviting them over for a low-key dinner, but don’t push if they refuse your invitation.

Run Everyday Errands

There’s nothing worse than things stacking up on an already overwhelmed friend struggling to just survive each day. Lighten his or her load by running to the grocery store, picking up the dry cleaning, buying pet food, running to the pharmacy, etc.

Offer Specific Acts of Service

It’s amazing when, in the midst of a crisis, your whole crew shows up to support you. But in those moments, it’s absolutely and crushingly overwhelming to try to answer the question, “What can I do for you?” Do your friend a favor by offering specific acts of service like, “I’m going to come over on Thursday and do your laundry/clean the house/make you dinner and do the dishes.” That lets him or her off the hook from making decisions.

Take Care of The Lawn

Sure, check in on your friend, but also make sure you keep an eye on helping out with things that may go untended while your friend heals. Mow the lawn, weed the flower beds, rake leaves, trim the shrubs, prep the house for winter, etc. Do the things your friend doesn’t have the strength to do right now. 

Stock The Fridge and Pantry

When times are rough, it’s easy to turn to junk food. We all crave comfort, even in the form of food. But you want your friend to stay healthy and be in the best possible state. So avoid dropping by with junk food even those decadent seven layer bars your grandma taught you to make. Bring foods that are packed with protein, nutrients, fruits and veggies.

Keep Showing Up

Going through a struggle is a long process, whether it’s losing a loved one, the end of a relationship, or a health crisis. Often there’s a rush of support in the beginning and then everyone goes back to life as usual, leaving the grief-stricken person on their own. Show up in the beginning, but keep showing up as your friend takes weeks and months to get back on their feet.

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