When a friend is down, it's important to know how to comfort them without being inconvenient. Therefore, it is necessary to know how to listen with sensitivity, invent activities to keep his head occupied and, thus, go through the recovery period with more peace of mind. Whatever the cause of the problem, he will certainly be fine with a supportive friend.
Part 1 of 3: Giving support
Step 1. Make room for your friend
If what he needs is to spend some time alone, do as he asks. Many people prefer to let off steam when something bad happens, but many others like to be alone to process the pain. Don't rush your friend to open up.
After a while, get in touch and say something kind like “I'm sorry about what happened and I've been thinking about you a lot”; it goes without saying that you are running towards him, prefer to sound more relaxed and less anxious
Step 2. Give a party to cheer him up
It doesn't have to be anything extraordinary, but something simple that demonstrates how important it is to you; this is even more important if he is not the type to open up or is a difficult person to decipher. A simple gift will open the door for your help.
- Give your friend a box of chocolates or some flowers before you even try to find out what happened. This is the best gesture you can do to comfort someone in the process of grieving. Other equally useful options would be some beers and a nice movie.
- A soda, a box of tissues, a place to sit comfortably, any simple comforts you can provide is a good start.
Step 3. Get in touch
In general, a friend who is depressed for any reason will not be the first to call. Both a breakup and the death of a pet or a family loss can cause a person to become isolated. Insist on seeing him and think of interesting ways to get him to open up.
- Send text messages if he doesn't answer the phone; in addition to being quicker to respond, he won't need to use his voice and bother pretending he's fine.
- This isolation can be caused even by apparently superficial reasons, such as the football team losing an important title. Don't judge the reason, prefer to try to cheer up your friend anyway.
Step 4. Be present
Your mere presence can be enough comfort to a sad friend. Loneliness can intensify the sadness and make things more difficult. Show that you are available, and if your friend wants to, they will know they have someone to count on.
A physical affection is also a good way to show affection, sometimes even more than a long conversation. Give him an affectionate pat on the shoulder, or a heartfelt hug. Hold his hand for a moment
Part 2 of 3: Sensitive Listening
Step 1. Encourage your friend to open up
Ask him a few questions to get his courage up and talk. If you have any idea what this is about, start there; otherwise, say "Want to talk?" or "What's going on?"
- Don't pressure him. As stated earlier, your mere presence can be comforting. Don't interrupt moments of silence, respect the need for stillness your friend may be feeling.
- After a few days, call your friend to find out how he is doing, especially if he chose to remain silent during your visit. Say "Hey, how are you?" and invite him to lunch together. Maybe he's more willing to talk now that some time has passed.
Step 2. Listen
When your friend decides to speak, be quiet and don't interrupt, not even to show sympathy. Focus on what he has to say until the end, don't start talking about your experiences in the middle of the conversation. Be silent, looking him in the eye and paying attention. Right now, all he needs is to be able to vent.
- Make eye contact. Face your friend with empathy. Turn off your cell phone and television, ignore any distractions that arise. Just look at him and listen.
- Gesture to show that you're listening and use your physical expression to show that he has your attention. Laugh at the funny parts, express annoyance at the sad ones, and keep listening.
Step 3. Validate what your friend says and repeat what you understand
When he slows down and you have a good opportunity to speak, repeat what he said in your own words to show you understand. Listening to someone else's own thoughts is a good way to process feelings, and your friend will be motivated to keep talking. If he's going through a breakup and tells you everything his ex did wrong, say “From what you're saying, she wasn't that interested”; help him reach some conclusions to move forward.
This technique is also used to clarify doubts. In that case, you could say “Let me get this straight; are you upset with your sister because she took your comic books without your permission?”
Step 4. Don't try to offer solutions
It's very common for people to think that a friend who is letting off steam is asking for advice on how to handle their situation, but unless your friend explicitly asks “What do you think I should do?” avoid this approach. The grieving process is not a problem that can be solved with a few simple measures, so prefer to listen and be present.
- This is even more important if your friend made a mistake. Avoid the "What did you expect?" for, besides being useless, it can be offensive. Don't say “You should have studied more and played less video games” if your friend's problem is having failed a grade, for example.
- If you really want to give advice, ask him if he wants it. Say "Do you want to know what I would do or do you just need to vent?" and act on the answer.
Step 5. Talk about other things
After a while, change the subject subtly, especially if your friend starts to get angrier or sadder, repeating the worst parts. Try to cheer him up with other things, talk about your plans for the future.
- Talk about what you will be doing during the day or share your plans for him. Talk about some other subject like someone who doesn't want anything. For example, if they're talking about breaking up and it's 15 minutes until lunch, ask if he's going to have lunch alone or what he's going to eat.
- At some point, your friend won't have anything else to talk about. When you realize that this moment has arrived, don't let him go back to certain parts of the subject, dwelling on the problem. This is unproductive and he will end up more stressed than he started. Help him think of other things and direct his attention to them.
Part 3 of 3: Keeping You Busy
Step 1. Distract your friend with different activities
Encourage him to do anything to take his mind off what's bothering him and force him to concentrate.
- Take it out of the house for a walk, go to the mall to window shop or stroll through the neighborhood for a change of heart.
- Help him to break out, but with good sense. Abusing alcohol, tobacco and other substances is not a good idea. Convince him that there are other ways to relieve tension if you really want to help.
Step 2. Do a physical activity
Exercising releases endorphins in the brain, which improves mood and, consequently, the pattern of thoughts. If you can convince your friend to play a sport, you can bet it will help him get through this moment in good health.
- Do some exercise that involves meditation, such as light stretches or yoga.
- To add to the fun, choose a team sport, go for a walk or cycle and talk.
- Choose more intense activities if he is experiencing a moment of anger and excess energy, such as weight training and weight lifting.
Step 3. Do something light and fun
Sadness can last for a while, and one of the ways to fight it is to have a good laugh. Going out to window shop, swimming or drinking popsicles are good options. Make a marathon of a funny series with lots of popcorn and talk about absurd things. Laughing is great medicine.
Step 4. Go out to eat
Take your friend out for something particularly delicious, like ice cream or go to a great bistro. Sadness can cause him to lose his appetite, which causes hypoglycemia and even fainting. Give him something tasty to whet his appetite.
You can make a tasty dish and take it home with him. Make a pie or soup and deliver it by hand. In addition to being a delicate gesture, this represents one less task for your friend
Step 5. Encourage him to cancel plans that are not urgent
Going through a really bad experience can hurt performance in things like presentations and very long classes. Help him understand that taking a day off to get out of the rut can be more than half of recovery.