This is the dominant form of help among a tertiary student sample
Listening and providing company
Extended listening – rather than advising – is often much more appreciated by someone who is distressed. Make a point to find out about their world, what has happened, how they are feeling, what impact it is having on their lives, what they might have done to change things. Going straight in with advice can be a bit insulting if you haven’t got the full picture. These are some comments from tertiary students:
“Listening to what someone is going through, be it partner, family, work or study-wise, is probably the most important thing to do – everyone needs to be listened to”
“my friend was sexually assaulted and she needed somebody to talk to and reassure her”
“Talking, lots of hugs, helping out with little tasks that make a big difference to them”
Sometimes it helps to indicate that the situation, whatever it may be, is distressing and that your friend’s response is not unusual (e.g. nerves before an exam). Normalising the situation can help them to feel that they are not the odd one out.
However, it is best not to belittle your friend’s distress, i.e. it is not a good idea to say “We all feel that you just have to get over it”. It is not uncommon for us to chip in with our own stories of woe to make the other person see that stuff happens and you just deal with it – but this is not necessarily a good idea. This has the effect of isolating someone even more and demonstrates that you are more interested in your own welfare and not theirs.
“we just reassure each other, encourage each other and tell each other it’s going to be OK”
Perspective versus Distraction
Sometimes taking your friend away from a stressful situation might be a good thing to do. It could provide them some safety or give them some space to think about how they can tackle the situation or distress. This could be as simple as going for a cup of coffee somewhere or more involved like this student …
“had them stay with me for a week so I could look after them, basically just make sure they were OK”
These forms of help are still allowing your friend to be distressed but are providing a new perspective or focus.
Distraction is more about preventing your friend/colleague from talking about their experience or pretending it does not exist. Burying the problem will not help your colleague. It is probably best to avoid getting them drunk for example. The next day they are back where they started, maybe worse.