Friendship through ups and downs

Supporting mates through tough times

Posted on May 26, 2020 by Isabelle

Life is full of ups and downs. We all face days where we feel up, and and days where we’re down. I’m Isabelle, one of the presenters here at PROJECT ROCKIT. I’m lucky enough to meet so many school students in different places around the country everyday. Hands down one of the toughest questions I’m asked in schools is: What’s the best thing you can do to help someone through a tough time?

Given I get asked this question so much, I thought I’d write about it. Hopefully this is helpful for anyone wanting to support their mates at the moment, because let’s be honest – it’s a tough time for lots of people.

With more people spending time at home and physically isolated, looking after our mental health is more important than ever. Supporting our friends through this can feel like a huge responsibility. There might be challenges in supporting people face-to-face, but only being able to offer support online at the moment can make it even harder. 

You might be feeling overwhelmed, or unsure of how to approach helping someone else, or maybe you don’t feel like you can really reach out to your friend over message or a phone call. That’s alright, I want to walk you through some tips on how to show support at the moment. 

Hot Tip 1: Get connected and listen

One of the best ways to support a friend is to literally just listen. Whilst you may not be able to physically be there for them, staying connected to a friend is the best way to show them support. The act of being heard is so important – feeling understood means that they won’t feel so alone. Try asking questions like, “do you want me to just listen, or would it be useful for me to help you come up with solutions?” That way you can really make sure you’re giving the kind of support they need. When you’re listening, try to repeat back to them how you’ve interpreted their experience (e.g. “it sounds like you’re feeling pretty stressed” or “it’s so understandable that you’re frustrated right now”).

If you’re after more tips on staying connected from home, check out my teammate Tayla’s tips here.

Hot Tip 2: Remind them not to be so hard on themselves

Bad days look kind of different at the moment. Maybe you’re low in motivation, or missing the buzz that comes from hanging out with friends in person. Maybe your friend is stressing about a big task they just can’t seem to get done, or the fact that they’re not able to do the usual things that they love. Sometimes it’s hard to be kind to yourself, but beating yourself up makes things so much worse. Try to notice when this is happening, and remind them that the way that they talk to themselves is entirely within their control. It’s so important for your mates to have people to let them know when they’re being harsh on themselves, and they’re much better than they think.

Hot Tip 3: Encourage them to keep opening up and seek support

Sometimes supporting a friend alone can be too much to handle and it’s not your responsibility to have all the answers, no matter how much you wish you could. One of the best ways to help a friend who needs more than you’re able to give, is to encourage them to seek support from professional resources. This doesn’t have to be super scary or intense – there’s actually a lot of really awesome, free resources out there. One of my favourites is headspace, Australia’s leading mental health organisation for young people. The team at headspace provide mostly free telephone and online support services for young people who may not be ready to attend a headspace centre, or would just rather chat online. Encourage your friend to jump online, or hey, why not join them in a discussion group? There are other young people waiting to chat to you or your friend about anything that’s going on.

So those are my top three tips for sending virtual hugs: Stay connected and really listen listen, remind them to be gentle with themselves, and support them to open up.