Here’s How To Help Your Friends Through Tough Times Without Feeling Like A Free Therapist

Contributor: Madelaine Cherrington

I adore my friends. I really do. I find myself regularly thinking about how their relationships are going, wondering if they’re in the right career, worrying over whether or not they are getting enough sleep, questioning if they have an unhealthy amount of love for their dog..…just kidding, there’s no such thing.

It’s perfectly normal to always be thinking about our friends — when you form close connections with people, it’s only natural that you come to care deeply about their wellbeing. Often that caring extends to actively listening to our friends when they have issues they want to talk through, or being a shoulder to cry on when they’re having a hard time due to stressful life events. 

And although an integral part of being a good friend is providing support and a listening ear, sometimes we find ourselves shifting from the role of the friend into the role of a therapist. 

So, how do you support your friends whilst also protecting your own wellbeing? Here’s a list of tips for doing just that. 

Boundaries, baby!

Thanks to the likes of TikTok, the term ‘boundaries’ has turned into a bit of a buzzword. But when it comes to our friendships, setting and maintaining boundaries is incredibly important. If you feel as though a friend is relying on you a bit too much when it comes to maintaining their own wellbeing, it might be time to have a gentle conversation with them and explain how you’re feeling. 

Not sure how to tackle that? Well, try telling your mate that you love the fact they trust you enough to confide in you, but that it could be worth checking in with you first to see if you’re in the right headspace to talk about the heavy stuff.

This is a good way to gently bring up the topic whilst still keeping the lines of communication open. 

To make things feel less one-sided, encourage your mate to verbalise their own boundaries and how they prefer you seek help from them. Relationships are a two way street – so whatever you decide on has to work for the both of you. Boundaries are there to protect both of you. 

Switch off, chill out and take a beat

If you’re feeling like your friends are hitting you up a little too often,  that might be a good impetus for you to develop some habits when it comes to logging off and giving yourself a break from social media. If you’re worried your friends might think you’re ignoring them, it might be easier to just shoot them a message to let them know you’re signing off for a bit. Communication is fab! 

When you’re offline, that is your time and your time alone. Take that time to check in with yourself, ask yourself how are YOU feeling and do what you need to do to decompress and look after your own wellbeing. When you give yourself the time to chill out and unwind, you’re also in a much better position to be that amazing and supportive friend when you decide to come back online. 

Put yourself first

Now if you’re like me, putting your own feelings and needs on the backburner in order to help the people around you is your default way of functioning. I have had to practice (and then practice some more) putting my own needs before others for quite a long time, with it only recently being something I can do comfortably. 

I know it’s much easier said than done, but putting your own wellbeing before helping others is the cornerstone to maintaining a healthy mind. As often as you can, you need to be making decisions that prioritise your own wellbeing. Keep those important appointments, honour your own commitments and take the time to help your friends when you’ve had the time to help yourself.

Show up for them in different ways

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to friendship, and how we choose to support our friends through stressful periods doesn’t have to be limited to ‘talking things through’.  

That might look like taking them out to see a movie, going for a run together, retail therapy (the best kind of therapy) or hitting the local for a bit of trivia. Try to pick activities where you’re able to spend quality time together but that don’t revolve around the need for constant conversation. 

Remember to always check in with yourself and make sure these are things you’re also interested in doing and that they leave you feeling fulfilled. 

Help them seek support

If your friend is in a place where they feel comfortable with seeking out and can afford psychological support, it can be really helpful to offer your own assistance when it comes to navigating that space. After all, it’s a jungle out there! 

The first time I decided I really needed to go see a psychologist, a friend of mine took it upon themselves to do a little digging and come up with a great suggestion as to who I should try first. I ended up loving and sticking with the psychologist she recommend for a long time. 

If you’re in the place to help, offer to sit down with your friend and help them come up with a list of names to reach out to. Sometimes you just need a little push to get things moving, and having a friend actively participate in seeking help can be exactly what you need. 

If that level of support isn’t something they want or necessarily need, sharing a variety of resources with them is another great step. Every single meditation app I have on my phone (and there’s A LOT) has been recommended to me by a friend.

Above all else, it’s okay to have a deep level of empathy for the people you love and it’s definitely okay for you to want to help your friends. All I ask is that you check in with yourself once in a while, maintain healthy boundaries and to make sure you’re actively looking out for your own wellbeing. And then pat yourself on the back for being a really good friend, because you deserve it.