Counseling Center: Let’s Talk About… Supporting a Friend

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Many people are experiencing distress these days, whether it be from family interactions, election results, relationship difficulties or finals stress. What do we do when we’re in distress? Most often we reach out to those we are close to for support. Most of the time this happens seamlessly, support is sought out and support is given. Other times, we may not realize our friends are in distress. Some people are skilled at managing their emotions while in public, so their distress may not be obvious or easily seen. Others may distance themselves from people in an effort to disconnect or unplug from their own emotions and feelings. 
They may stop going out to do things. For example, they may stop eating meals in the University Center, going to classes, participating in sports and practices or hanging out with friends in social settings. Or you may notice that your friend is more emotional or more irritable than usual. 
If you notice these signs, your friend may be having a hard day, a hard week or even a hard month. When you are in a private space that allows for conversation, check in with them to ask how they are doing and how they are feeling. Rather than asking questions hurriedly or superficially, ask how they are in a way that is meaningful and show you have the time to listen to a full answer. So now that your friend is turning to you for support, how do you respond? Here are a few helpful tips. Listen. This is easier said than done. Allow your friend enough time and space to express their thoughts and feelings as fully as possible. 
It’s okay to ask occasional clarifying questions and give brief summaries to check that you are understanding them correctly and fully. Show interest and concern without letting it become about you. Without judgment. This means avoiding criticism, not imposing your point of view and not giving advice unless it is specifically requested or asked for. With empathy. Empathy is the ability  of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes, feel what they are feeling and experience what they are going through. 
How do you communicate empathy? Your tone of voice and your facial expression are more important than your actual words. But here are a few examples to get you started: “Wow, that is a lot. Thank you for letting me know.” “I don’t know what to say right now, I am just glad you told me.” “That is really hard.” Empathy can also be communicated through comfort with silence or through offering a respectful and caring touch or embrace (ask “can I give you a hug?”).
Ask your friend what would be helpful. Sometimes they don’t know, but other times eating dinner together or giving a ride to the grocery store or meeting up for a walk together could be just what is needed. At times, we ourselves can become overwhelmed by others’ problems. It is okay to say that you cannot listen right now and then find someone else who can help your friend 
or plan a later time to get together. Self-care is important, too! Usually lending a caring and empathetic ear is enough support, but if you or your friend need more support, consider the 
following offices: Residential Life, Campus Wellness, or the Counseling Center (walk-in hours Monday-Friday, 12:00 p.m.-1:00 p.m.). And remember the OASIS (Clark 124) and Boxer Breather (Thursdays 4:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. in Clark 124) are great resources, too!

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