We’ve all been in the situation where someone is struggling, and we say, “Let me know what I can do for you.” We walk away feeling charitable because we offered, and they leave feeling about the same because they almost definitely are NOT going to call.
So, what’s a better alternative?
First off…bring your offer into the present.
You’re talking to someone who is already struggling. Don’t put it on them to reach out to you to ask for something at a later date. They are living day to day anyway, and not thinking a lot about future.
Here are some ideas. Don’t offer more than two of these at a time to avoid overwhelming your friend, and gauge your level of closeness with the individual on which of these is appropriate.
1. Can I bring you a taco?
Be sure to make it clear that it isn’t a bother, and that you are already going. And it doesn’t have to be a taco, it can be any kind of food. But remember, friends don’t bring friends kale. Unless that’s their thing. However, carbs, grease and sugar heal the soul in a way that vegetables can’t. Remember that. Make sure they know that they aren’t obligated to chat with you, or even let you inside.
2. Can I do your hair?
This one might sound odd, but hear me out. When I was depressed, it felt like so much work to wash and brush my hair. I have long, curly hair that tends to get horrifically tangled. I would pile it on top of my head in a messy bun day after day, and it would turn into a terrifying rats nest. I didn’t have the energy to deal with it. My hair became such a huge struggle for me, and I didn’t want to brush it because a terrifying amount of hair would fall out. If you can relieve this burden (or an equivalent task) for someone that you love, you are doing them a great service.
3. Let’s go for a walk! (Or drive!)
There is something about walking that makes it easier to be open. Also, it is so much easier to relax and let your worries fly away when you are in motion even if you don’t talk.
When I worked for a private agency providing mental health counseling, the building was in the front of a nice quiet neighborhood. During some sessions, we would go for walks. It was easier for my clients to talk because we weren’t just sitting there looking at each other. It relieves the pressure, and makes it easier for them to open up.
If the weather is gross, or if they aren’t in a situation where walking isn’t going to be relaxing for them, offer to take them for a drive. Getting out of the house for a non-essential reason is so beneficial.
4. Can your kids come over for a playdate?
Do you have kids that are about the same age? Invite them over to give your friend a break. You can invite them over, and let your friend do their own thing. They might take some time for catching up on their housework, or maybe some personal self-care.
5. What can I clean for you?
This is a tricky one. Some people absolutely do not want this, but it can be a life saver for others. If you know them well enough, (and you know it won’t bug them) then just go ahead and do what needs to be done. There are dishes in the sink? Wash them! The floor needs to be swept? Sweep it! But if you know its going to bother them, then don’t go there!
6. Want to watch a movie?
Something upbeat. Unless they specifically ask for a title that is a little on the darker side, choose something lighthearted that isn’t too much work to follow the plot line. Don’t push them to talk about anything they are experiencing, but be willing to listen if they want to talk.
7. Do you want to talk?
Offer them the opportunity, but don’t be pushy. Make it clear that there isn’t any pressure. And bring chocolate and tissues. Obviously.
What do you think is the best way to support someone who is going through a hard time?