One of the most important things to remember when you are helping someone who has low mood or depression, is to take good care of yourself as well. The better your own self-care the more able you are to help your friend. It is not being selfish. Your needs are just as important as your friend’s, even if your friend seems to be in more pain than you. You can’t help your friend if you can’t function well yourself.
RECOGNIZE YOUR NEEDS – PUT YOUR OWN SELF-CARE AS TOP PRIORITY AS WELL
Our emotions are often the best indicator that we need something. If I’m feeling irritable with my friend, I might be hungry or tired, or maybe I need some space by myself, a little time alone. I may need to talk with my friend and see how I might get what I need and still care for my friend as well. I want to create a win/win situation.
Helping someone who is feeling down or is depressed can be challenging and we need to honour ourselves and the help we are giving. If we are having a hard time, we can offer ourselves compassion and understanding for our own efforts.
IT’S NOT ABOUT FIXING ANYONE
As much as we want our friend to feel better our role is not to try to fix them. The best thing we can do is simply support them right where they are — in the moment. Trust that they are moving through this process at their own pace, and using their own judgment. They are the true expert on themselves even if their choices may not seem the wisest. Just let them know you are there to support them with whatever they are doing.
LISTEN and VALIDATE
Listening to your friend is one of the most helpful things you can do. Hear what they are saying and feeling and validate them. For example, your friend says “I’m so depressed. I don’t know what to do. This is so awful.” You can acknowledge how they feel by saying “Yah, it’s really hard for you right now. It sounds like it’s a really painful place to be. What can I do to help you?”
DON’T TAKE ON THEIR STRUGGLE
Try not to get so involved in your friend’s situation that you have taken it on and suffer right along with them. Try to just be present when you are with them. When you are not, focus on your own life and getting your own needs met in the best way possible. This will strengthen you and help you to be available for your own life as well as your friend’s.
LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS
Make sure you don’t have high expectations of yourself when helping your friend. This only sets you up for disappointment and/or stress and strain. As well, ensure that you don’t have expectations of your friend to get better sooner. Healing can be a very slow process. Allow them to go at their own pace.
THINGS TO DO FOR YOURSELF…
GROUNDING & CENTERING. Have a cup of tea or coffee. Feel the warmth of the cup in your hands. Feel the sensation of the warm liquid as you drink it. Feel it soothe and warm you.
GO FOR A WALK BY YOURSELF. No phone, no music. Just walk and allow yourself to gently feel what you are feeling. Be compassionate towards yourself. Focus on your feet hitting the pavement, or on the sounds of birds and wind in the trees. Even the sound of a car going by.
TALK WITH SOMEONE YOU TRUST. If you are having a hard time helping your friend, talk to someone else about it. Choose someone who is a good listener and will not try to fix things for you. Ideally you want someone who can simply allow you to work things out on your own while providing you soothing support and encouragement.
IDENTIFY YOUR SMALLEST PLEASURES. Think about the things that really make you feel good, or at least somewhat comforted and at peace. It may be watching tv, or reading a good novel, or simply hanging out with someone you have fun with. Give yourself plenty of permission to enjoy these small pleasures. They can restore your energy.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY. Make sure you get enough rest, good nutrition and exercise. The more physically fit you are the more you are able to deal with emotional ups and downs.
DON’T FORGET TO PLAY. You can even ‘play’ or have fun with your ill friend – if they are up for it. Some people with illness still want to have fun sometimes and play. It provides a break from thinking about their illness. Make sure they want to. Don’t force them.