how to comfort a friend

How to Comfort a Friend: 19 Strategies That Work

As we all know, life can throw us huge curve balls which can hit us hard and leave us flailing around in an inner turmoil. 

Even though we are all aware of this, it can be tricky to say the right things or do the right stuff when it’s your friend who is in a whirlwind of stress and sadness.

To make matters worse, because everyone is so different, we all require various types of tender loving care! 

Having said this, there are some general “rules” that you can follow to increase your helpfulness levels when your loved one is needing some comfort. 

1. Get in Touch

Once you find out that someone you care for is going through a traumatic experience and you want to be there to offer support, contact them. 

Phones were invented for a reason so dial the number and get talking! But, if your friend (or yourself) aren’t the calling type, opt for a sincere text message or email.

Also, offer to visit them — they are bound to feel lonely and isolated so they would probably be glad of the company.

2. Listen and Listen Again

It can be tempting at the early crisis stage, to want to offer your friend a bunch of advice but, regardless of how much help you think this is, it isn’t. 

The best thing to do is let them tell their story, in their own words, as many times as they would like. This plays a vital role in helping to treat any type of psychological trauma. 

On the other hand, do not stay completely silent either (we know, a lot of contradictions here, helping someone in crisis is not an easy task)! Attempt to let them know that you are understanding the situation and ask questions should you need clarifications. 

3. Keep Certain Things to Yourself

Similar situations you have been involved in, your personal feelings on their trauma, judgements about their circumstances and any criticisms you may possess — these are all bits of information that are best left unsaid right now!

4. Never Be Pushy

Think back to a time when the shoe was on the other foot and it was you going through the crisis. How did you feel? Maybe something akin to an uncontrollable downward spiral?

This is most likely where your loved one is at and they would benefit from making decisions right now! Offer them some options — they don’t have to be about the situation, it could be as simple as “Would you like chips or mashed potato?”.

5. Be Prepared to Assist with Decisions

Trauma can manifest a lot of confusion because the brain is working hard to try and deal with the circumstances, so your friend might need help in making decisions — even small ones.

6. Get Ready to Muck In

Does your friend have children? If so, they will need taking care of and cannot be forgotten about. Offer your services in terms of cooking for them, getting them ready for bed and taking/picking them up from school. This will be a huge help!

Even if your loved one doesn’t have children, you can still be there to offer some “real life” support. Suggest cleaning, running some errands or cooking — observe the specific things your friend needs doing and offer to do it.

7. Bring Healthy Food

Stop off at the supermarket (or bring along something from home) when you go to visit them. Having something tasty and nutritious in the house will encourage your friend to keep eating regularly. 

8. Let The Tears Run

Preferably, you should not be the one crying! You are needed to be a strong, reliable tree trunk at this moment, so no waterworks from you please.

Your friend will probably have numerous bouts of crying fits along the recovery journey and you need to be there for them to lean on. 

Understandably, some people become very uncomfortable when others cry in their presence. If this sounds like you, count to ten and try to be a balloon filled with care and support.

9. Turn Your Phone On

In this day and age, it’s likely that you already have your phone on. However, if not, turn it on. Trust us, you will be needed.

Once it’s switched on, ensure you have it set to “loud” so that when your friend rings you at 2 am (which we can guarantee that they will) you will be able to hear it and pick up.

10. Take a Breath

Your loved one’s turmoil will affect you. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about that. 

However, during this time, your friend may (without meaning to) irritate or trigger you. You need to take a breath here. Do not poke the bear — the situation will only escalate.

11. Professional Therapy

If your friend starts displaying signs of suicidal tendencies or they are acting in a self-destructive and irrational way, seek professional help as soon as possible. 

There are loads of hotlines that are available for exactly this. Try:

  • Samaritans — 116 123 — they are guaranteed to help everyone
  • CALM — 0800 58 58 58 — this one is only for men
  • Papyrus — 0800 068 41 41 — under 35 years old
  • Emergency services — 111 — for everyone, always pick up and they will help you find the right organization for your friend

12. Patience is Key

As we mentioned in tip two, your friend may want to tell their story multiple times. Just bear with it, this will get better. 

Alternatively, they may be stuck in their emotions still, past the point where you believe you would be rallying and fighting fit. Everyone is different, respect their process, they will get through it. 

13. Night Time Is a Hard Time

Turmoil tends to get worse as the sun sets and bedtime approaches. Give your friend a call before you turn in to check up on things and let them know they can ring you at any time. 

14. Support Basic Functioning

When trauma first happens, basic activities like getting out of bed, brushing your teeth and putting some clothes on can feel like far too much. You will need to approach all this very softly by giving them a gentle nudge to do these things. 

Assuming you know your friend well, try asking whether they would like to do their favorite activity with you — painting, walking, yoga, whatever it is — and see how they respond.

15. No Reckless Behavior

Binge drinking, taking drugs and potentially harmful behavior should be discouraged by you.

On the other hand, your friend may like a few drinks when he or she is struggling, but you can be the little angel on their shoulder by saying that moderation is the best policy.

16. Don’t Forget About Yourself

You have probably heard the phrase, “if you can’t take care of yourself, then you can’t take care of others”. Honestly, this couldn’t be truer. 

If your health or mental faculties diminish, then you won’t be able to give your loved one the support they need and deserve. Take a step back for a minute, remember to feed yourself and breathe. You’ll come back feeling brand new, refreshed and ready to help your friend.

17. Check-In With Them

As time passes, the group of people that your friend may have had around them will probably shrink as people go back to their normal lives. Aim to be the person that checks in and contacts them even months after the event.

18. Keep It Simple

Frankly, if you aren’t the best with words, or you simply just don’t know what to say, admit that. Your friend will appreciate that you are there for them, even if you can’t find the right way to express things.

19. The Ring Theory

A lady called Susan Silk developed what has now been coined “The Ring Theory” to help people avoid saying the wrong thing to the wrong people.

It works with concentric circles and is most successful when physically drawn out. How does it work? Well…

  1. Draw a small circle and write the name of the person who is experiencing the current trauma in the center of it. 
  2. Next, draw a larger circle around the first one and write the name of whoever it is that is closest to the trauma (after the center person).
  3. Repeat this as many times as is appropriate to your specific situation.

The idea is that the person in the innermost circle can complain, cry and do whatever they need, to anyone in the other rings.

If you are speaking to someone who is placed in a smaller circle than yours, you need to be there to help them. However, if you are conversing with someone in the outer rings, you can express your traumas and any triggers the current circumstances have brought up.  

Always keep in mind that a traumatic situation is an extremely difficult time, and you will need to forgive yourself if you don’t have your supporting tactics down to a T yet. Just be there with buckets of tender loving care, and you will be help enough.