Having a Conversation
Depending on your relationship, talking about your concern for your friend can be difficult or awkward. Here are a couple tips to get the conversation started.
Focus on your observations. Use concrete details and clearly iterate why you’re concerned. Avoid using judgmental and accusatory language. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to use “I” statements (instead of “you” statements). For example, a good way to get started might be, “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been acting like yourself lately. Is something going on?”
Listen as much as you talk. If your friend opens up about something they’re struggling with, actively listen. Avoid interrupting or changing the subject. Resist the temptation to interject advice or your own personal opinions. Instead, wait until they are finished speaking and then gently let them know about campus resources, such as the Counseling or Health Centers. If you are comfortable doing so, you can offer to call with them and/or walk them to their appointment. If you are unsure what resources may be of use, you can speak with anyone in Campus Life for suggestions.
Additional information on helping a peer can be found on the Counseling Center’s website.
Additional Ways to Offer Support
Talking with your friend isn’t the only way to show support or help. Strong, positive social networks can also help in overcoming various challenges. Here are some ways to help build a strong support network for a friend..
Regular Check-Ins: Sometimes it’s helpful just to feel included or know that someone is there for you. A quick call, text, or hello as you’re walking across campus can help – and it will probably make you feel good, too!
Make Plans: Similar to regular check-ins, it’s nice to feel included. An invitation to an event is always appreciated, even if your friend doesn’t always come.
Learn More: If your friend has shared the specifics of their situation with you, do some research. By increasing your knowledge of the issue, you’re increasing the empathy you can show towards your friend.
Support Healthy Behaviors: Dealing with stress can be difficult, but some basic strategies can make it a little easier. Encourage your friend to get plenty of sleep, eat healthy and exercise – you could even make plans to get a meal or go to the gym together!
Avoid Harsh Words: Avoid dismissive language found in common phrases like, “you’ll get over it,” or “just snap out of it.” Use supportive language and reassure your friend that they are not alone and that they will make it through this.
When to Set Boundaries
It’s important to recognize your own thoughts and feelings when helping a friend. Some people are okay with supporting a friend and providing multiple opportunities to vent or talk. Eventually, many people find it overwhelming to support their friend, and offering frequent support can negatively impact their own lives. An example would be staying up all night to listen and talk, then missing your class in the morning or failing to complete an assignment. This feeling can vary over time and friendships, so it’s important to be aware of how you’re feeling at all times.
It’s time to step back from the situation, set some boundaries, and practice self-care when:
- You’re unable to focus on classes or work
- You’re taking time away from activities or other things you enjoy
- You feel as though you can’t spend time with other friends
- You feel a weight on your shoulders or like you’re holding onto too big of a secret
- You feel like you can’t, or don’t know how to, say no
- You’re emotionally exhausted after speaking with your friend
- You feel like you have no privacy
- You feel as though you’re losing control of the situation and/or don’t know how to help
How to Set Boundaries
Setting boundaries can seem like a daunting task, especially if it’s something you’ve never done before. When setting new boundaries in a friendship, it’s not unusual for people to feel nervous about how the other will react, or to feel like they are being selfish in asking for more space. Keep in mind that your well-being is just as important as your friends. Whether you’re just starting to help a friend or you have been helping and now feel overwhelmed, here are some suggestions for creating healthy boundaries in a friendship:
Give yourself permission. Remind yourself that you have a right to self-care. Setting boundaries is a skill that takes determination and practice. Allow yourself to meet your needs without feeling anxiety or guilt.
Use clear communication. During your conversation, identify the need to set a boundary in a respectful, calm manner. Say how you feel without expressing blame. Be clear and transparent with what you need and expect. For instance, “I need to sleep because I have classes, so texts or phone calls after 1 a.m. are not okay, and only two calls per day.”
Set aside time for yourself. Take some time to enjoy a hobby or just relax. Spend some time doing something just for you!