When someone you care about is stressed, there are practical ways you can help in a supportive manner.
Everyone experiences stress from time to time. When someone close to you is feeling overwhelmed, it can be easy to put yourself in their shoes. You may know how hard it is to hear people tell you to “just relax” or “calm down” when you’re feeling stressed.
But when someone you know is stressed, it can still be hard to know how to help. It can be even harder when a friend is showing signs of chronic stress or even depression.
Learning ways to offer support and knowing what to say and what not to say can be helpful for someone going through a stressful time.
They are not alone and neither are you. It is possible to support someone who is stressed during their time of need.
There are many ways to support a loved one who is dealing with stress. Here are a few ideas experts suggest considering.
One of the best things you can do for someone who is stressed is to listen, says Dr. Roberta Ballard, a clinical psychologist residing in Marietta, Georgia.
It may be tempting to suggest a solution for their stress, but instead of trying to fix their problem, simply try to let them know you’re listening and understanding what they are saying, says Ballard.
“They might only need someone to listen, and your work is done! But if they ask for advice, you are in a better position to offer helpful insights if you have listened and have a solid understanding of what’s going on.”
One way to help a friend release some of their stress is to get active. Emilea Richardson, a licensed marriage and family therapist residing in Greenville, South Carolina, suggests exercising.
“It can be as gentle as a 10-minute yoga video or a walk to the mailbox. It could be as intense as a HIIT session or lifting serious weights,” says Richardson.
As long as you get your body moving and heart pumping, you’ll release endorphins and reduce the cortisol in your body, explains Richardson.
If you want to try this, get started by engaging in any kind of activity the person you’re trying to help enjoys. This can include dancing, roller skating, or just going for a walk.
Richardson says laughter can help relieve stress. However, she says, “not just a half-laugh though, you need a big belly laugh.” To try this, you can take your friend to see a comedy show or watch a funny TV show or film together.
Crying can be another way to relieve stress, since it may release cortisol from the body, says Richardson. However, more research is still needed on this topic.
To try this approach, you can switch the movie or show to a tearjerker or just offer yourself to your friend as a shoulder to cry on.
Additional ideas for helping someone who is stressed include:
- providing random acts of kindness, like buying them flowers or food
- offering to help in any way you can.
- validating their feelings.
- distracting them with something enjoyable, like a movie, walk, or game.
- suggesting deep breathing exercises.
Finding the right words in a stressful situation is not always easy. If you’re trying to find the words to help out a loved one in a stressful situation, consider something that validates their feelings and will not make them feel guilty for being stressed.
“You don’t have to say much, just let them know that you’re tuned in and listening,” says Richardson.
Consider saying things like:
- “Let me know how I can be of support.”
- “How can I help you focus on one thing at a time?”
- “This must be really hard for you.”
Try to avoid saying things like:
- “That doesn’t sound hard.”
- “You’ll be fine.”
- “You just need a vacation.”
Another thing professionals advise against is the classic response of “just relax.”
“When you say ‘relax’ to a stressed person, they feel invalidated and misunderstood,” says Richardson. This can cause the person more tension or stress.
Stress can range from short-term to long lasting (chronic stress) and can affect your mental and physical health.
“Feeling stuck in a state of overwhelm can lead to feelings of despair, which can veer into depression,” says Liza Gold, a licensed clinical social worker in New York City.
If a loved one is feeling stressed, look out for the following changes in their behavior, says Gold:
- seeming tense, irritable, or on edge
- experiencing changes in sleeping habits
- experiencing changes in appetite
- misusing drug or alcohol
- exercising compulsively
“If you notice that a loved one is stressed, don’t be afraid to say something. Let them know you can sense that they’re feeling overwhelmed, and ask how you can be of support,” says Gold.
If you notice any of these symptoms in your loved one, you can read more about how to support someone with depression.
If you know someone who is dealing with stress, there are ways you can support them.
Finding the right words and knowing the signs of chronic stress can help your loved one navigate their way through a stressful situation.
Try to remain understanding and avoid judgment. You can also try helping them release stress through laughter, tears, or exercise.
If your friend is struggling to cope or their symptoms of stress will not go away, it may be time for them to consider talking with a therapist.
Try to remain positive and support your friend as best as you can.