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10 Things To Remember When You Help A Depressed Friend

10 Things To Remember When You Help A Depressed Friend

Most people don’t really know how to react when a depressed friend confides in them. When this happens, we have to be very sensitive in our actions and with what we say and don’t say, but often these things aren’t very intuitive. I should know because I’ve made many mistakes myself, and only realized later that I had made them. Thus, I’ve made a list of 10 things that we should always remember when helping a depressed friend.

1. Remember to listen

This one is so obvious. But I needed to say it because being able to listen attentively is especially crucial here. Do not get distracted, ignore those text messages for a bit, and focus all your energy and attention on your friend. The least you can do, really, is to make your friend feel important and like he or she really matters right now.

Your friend needs you. Be a good listener and don’t assume you already know what they have to tell you. It is an honor that your friend chose you to open up to, instead of someone else. Tread lightly.

2. Remember not to judge

The time your friend will need extra love from you is when they are feeling utterly depressed. As Mother Teresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” That is true. There is no way you can help someone when you’re coming from a place of judgment.

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Everybody judges other people to a certain extent. I’m no exception. But this is definitely not the time for that. Do not tell your friend how sorry they should be feeling – 99.9% of the time you are entirely wrong about what exactly your friend is going through.

3. Remember not to compare

More often than not, life is relative. We have our own standards. If your friend is genuinely depressed at failing to achieve that A grade, don’t tell them that they shouldn’t be, just because half of the class failed. Likewise, if your friend is suffering from extreme loneliness, don’t go saying something like, “Well, I’m pretty lonely too.”

All this is useless stuff and it either does not add any value, or it makes your friend feel worse. Drop it, seriously. You might as well tell your friend how terrible they are for feeling depressed when there are people starving with no roof over their heads.

4. Remember never to suppress their emotions

Another thing that adds zero value is telling your depressed friend to ‘be strong.’ Or not to cry. What does being strong even mean? And definitely don’t tell your friend to just ‘snap out of it.’ It doesn’t work, period.

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This is not the time to dictate what your friend should be doing or feeling. Your friend needs connection. They need someone to share the burden with, not to miraculously rise up to the occasion and suddenly become ‘strong.’ It’s not on you to fix anything.

If your friend just needs a day to get over it, so be it. The same if they need ten or thirty days. Your job is to be there for them, and not to say something like, “You shouldn’t be brooding over it for more than three days.” Ultimately, recovery is in the hands of the depressed person alone.

5. Remember to express empathy

Shame and vulnerability researcher Dr. Brené Brown says it best here. Feeling with people.

“The truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better, is connection.”

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6. Remember to offer support

Do what it takes so that your friend feels like you have got their back. Make sure you mean what you say. Telling your friend how much you care, or even telling them that you won’t let them go through this ordeal alone is oh, so easy. Prove it with your actions.

Call again the next day to check on your friend. Sacrifice an entire day to be with them. Send a hand-written note. If you’re busy at work, send a digital hug to let them know that they’re not alone. Remember, it’s not so much what you say or do, it’s how you make your friend feel.

7. Remember to make physical contact

Where possible, physical contact always helps. Be it a tap on your friend’s hand or arm, a pat on the back, an arm around the shoulder, or better still, a nice warm hug.

All these things release oxytocin in the body and fuel the connection between the two of you. And when one is depressed, what one really craves for is connection. Because as Dr. Brené Brown has already mentioned, your words rarely help anyway. So shut up and just give your friend a big hug. Show them some love.

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8. Remember to be patient

What I mean by this is that your friend may say hurtful things and become very difficult to handle. Your friend might appear to be impossible to deal with. Just remember that this is not really him or her. This is the depression in your friend. It is temporary.

Depression might also make it hard for your friend to connect with anyone around them, even if you happen to be their close friend. They might be emotionless. Be patient and do not take it personally.

9. Depression is serious business

Depression is a serious illness. Understand that something terrible or traumatic does not need to happen for someone to be depressed. It can happen for no rhyme or reason. And it isn’t just about being in an extremely sad state. In fact, someone can be silently suffering from depression and yet look totally fine. If you suspect a friend is depressed, encourage them to seek medical treatment as well.

10. Remember not to neglect yourself

Lastly, do take care of yourself. If your friend is depressed, it can bring you down no matter how hard you try to help and show your care and concern. Know when to pull back and when you are doing yourself more of a disfavor than a favor for your friend. You may even have to be selective right from the beginning sometimes, so choose wisely. Always remember to love and respect yourself too.

Featured photo credit: Felipe Morin via flickr.com

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Last Updated on January 15, 2019

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Step right up, don’t be shy!

Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

Culturally Conditioned

We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

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Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

1. Broadens Your Network

After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

2. Improves Your Communication Skills

I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

3. Continually Learning

So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

4. Increases Self Confidence

Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

How to Talk to Strangers

Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

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1. Say Hello

Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

2. Ask About Them

Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

3. Just Do It

One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

4. Don’t Take It Personal

One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

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5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

6. Detach

A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

7. Share Your Stories

Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

8. Give a Compliment

Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

9. Relax Your Body Language

If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

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If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice

Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

The Bottom Line

As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

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