It’s tough to watch someone struggling, especially when you care deeply about them. Your heart tells you to help, but you’re also aware that you could mess up, and maybe you’re not sure you can genuinely be of help. If you can’t directly relate to their struggle, it’s tough to say and do the right thing, and empathizing with them may not come naturally.
There are many different ways that someone might be struggling. Brown Girl Therapy founder Sahaj Kaur Kohli, an expert in clinical mental health counseling and advocacy, has a few suggestions of her own. Writing for TED, she outlines some methods to help someone who is struggling.
It’s worth noting that this expert’s work focuses on mental health struggles. However, her words can be applied to other struggles, too, and is, in this article, supplemented by other good advice! Here are six ways to help when someone is struggling in life.
1. Be A Good Listener
People who are struggling will appreciate feeling heard and understood by you. When asking them questions, be sure to fully listen and express that you believe them and think their feelings and struggles are valid. Empathize with them with sympathetic and kind (but not coddling) words. Even something like “That sounds difficult” can be sufficient.
Remember to come from a place of genuine desire to understand. You should not bring your harsh judgment with you to the party. Don’t compare their struggles to other people’s, minimize their suffering, or try so hard to “fix” the problem that you neglect to validate them entirely.
If the person in your life is having trouble opening up, research suggests that this may be because of the stigma surrounding struggles, especially mental health ones. You can help remove the stigma by maintaining an open dialogue about mental health so they feel safe coming to you.
2. Learn More About The Issue They’re Facing
One of the biggest missteps people make when trying to be helpful is well-meaning ignorance. This outcome happens when you want to help and your intentions are positive, but you have no idea what you’re dealing with. So, as a result, you say disrespectful things to someone who’s struggling, give bad advice, accidentally invalidate them, or make things worse.
You can be so out of your depth even if you don’t fall into the trap of well-meaning ignorance. If you don’t know anything about their struggles, you pretty much can’t help them at all. You should try to learn more about those struggles if you want to help someone. Here are some ways to do so:
· Educate Yourself On Why They Are Struggling
Whatever that person is struggling with, do some more in-depth research about it. For example, if they have depression, read up what you can about it, researching scientific explanations and personal accounts from others with the disorder. Or, if they’ve lost their job due to discrimination, look up information on how discrimination in the workplace happens and how that may continue to affect them going forward. Try to get more than a rudimentary understanding of the topic. After all, there are countless ways you can find information online!
· Don’t Act Like You Know More Than Them
Each situation is unique, and the person you’re trying to help understands their position more than you do. Your theoretical knowledge from research can’t compete with your real-life lived experience! Use your knowledge as a guide instead of a set of rigid rules as you learn more from the actual person’s practical experience. Even among similar struggles, not all issues look the same. You should remember that well!
· Suggest Relevant Resources
If the struggling person is having trouble finding resources, look some up, research their backgrounds, and suggest them to the person if they fit their needs. Resources may come from aid organizations, charitable causes, or information. If some of these resources require in-person visits, you can offer to go with them for added support.
3. Keep In Touch With Them
A lot of struggling people push those around them away. They tend to feel guilty that others take care of them or look after them. This guilt makes them self-isolate, worried about taking up other people’s energy and time.
Show this person in your life that you want to be there for them by regularly keeping in touch. Check in to ask how they’re doing. To be a companion, make time to hang out with them, even when you’re not helping. Remind them that you care about them and will be there for them. These things seem simple, but they mean the world to someone who’s struggling!
In addition, if they tend to isolate themselves, don’t stop inviting them out. They might always say no. But they will appreciate that you still think of them.
4. Help Somone Struggling With Everyday Tasks or Errands
When people are struggling, it’s not the vast gestures or big jobs that are often the most difficult. The small, simple, everyday tasks sneak up on them. It sounds strange – these tasks usually don’t seem that difficult. But somehow, you can always tell when someone is struggling based on how clean their home is, their hygiene levels, and how behind they are on something seemingly mundane.
Struggling individuals often feel overwhelmed by all the big things they have to do. This feeling makes everyday errands and chores seem almost impossible. They don’t have the time and energy to organize their to-do list and get everything in order, so they put it aside. By the time they can turn to do these tasks again, they realize that everything has piled up a lot, and they cannot tackle them all.
This is why one of the best ways to help someone struggling is by helping them with everyday tasks. They seem tedious and trivial, but they can make or break someone’s day. Studies show that those with mental health struggles lack quality of life. Try looking around to see what needs doing, then fill that need.
Here are some ways that you can pitch in when you see someone struggling:
- Clean their house; even a bit of dusting, sweeping, and light decluttering session can completely transform the vibes of someone’s living space.
- Offer to drive them somewhere or be their chauffeur for a day of errands.
- Cook a good meal or two for them or buy them some takeout that will last for a few days in their fridge.
- Send them a gift card for necessities, such as groceries or meals.
- Accompany them on potentially nerve-wracking but essential appointments.
- Babysit or petsit for them.
- Do their grocery shopping for them.
- Just ask if there’s any help they need and be willing to take them up on their request, within reason.
- Make them an excellent care package with valuable items to show that you care.
5. Communicate Any Noteworthy Concerns Well
People who are struggling still need to hear the truth where necessary. They’re not absolved from accountability, even if you understand that they may need some leniency in this trying time. Honesty must still be present.
As someone who is helping them, you have to be able to communicate reasonable concerns that you have in a way they would be most receptive to. Here are some tips for navigating these difficult, complex conversations with healthy communication:
· Engage In Timely Communication About Their Struggling
Don’t break difficult news to a struggling person when they’re at their worst. Wait for a calm, relatively relaxed moment if possible. This will ensure that they’re in a suitable headspace to hear you out.
· Express Concerns With A Focus On Behavior
To get through to someone struggling, focus on their actions instead of making assumptions. Don’t throw out diagnoses left and right by saying “I think you have anxiety” or similar things. Instead, zoom in on specific behaviors and highlight why they concern you. Emphasize your worry for them instead of casting any judgment.
· Don’t Take Anything Personally
Don’t take it personally if the struggling person lashes out at you because of your communication. They’re doing this as a defense mechanism, and it has nothing to do with you. If they refuse to listen, take a step back and let them be. (Do note that you should listen to their grievances about your communication to ensure that the issue isn’t on your side. Judge this with rationality and openness!)
6. Maintain Your Boundaries as You Help Someone Who Is Struggling
Helping someone who’s struggling is tiring, and if you overdo it, you could feel very drained. Your charitable acts also have limitations, and you need to have boundaries. If you don’t, you’ll be too exhausted to continue helping them and may even start struggling. Worst of all, you could begin resenting that person for how much you’ve had to do for them.
This is where maintaining boundaries come in. It would be best to determine where your limits lie and what lines you won’t cross. When possible, openly communicate these boundaries to the person you’re helping. If they attempt to make you feel bad for setting limits, you may want to reconsider your decision to help them. It sounds harsh, but compromising on your limitations will only make things harder for you.
It’s also a good idea to ensure you don’t spend too much time with this one person. Continue to take time for yourself to unwind, do some acts of self-care, and spend time with other people in your life. You shouldn’t end up sacrificing your life to help someone who’s struggling. Remember, you can’t help someone if you’re not in a state where you can do so.
Final Thoughts On Some Ways To Help When Someone Is Struggling In Life
It’s difficult to help someone struggling in life, but you can certainly do it if you try! Be a good listener, take time to learn about their struggles, and keep in touch with them. You can also communicate your concerns healthily and pitch in with everyday tasks. Finally, don’t forget to maintain your boundaries for your health and safety–and theirs!