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"Offering your support can be a crucial first step in helping a friend mitigate potentially serious consequences caused by excessive stress"

All of us have different tolerances and capacities to adapt to stressful factors in our lives, yet even for the most robust among us, many are currently feeling that our capacity to manage stress is overwhelmed.

On top of our own challenges, when someone close to us is also feeling overwhelmed or stressed, it can be difficult to know how to help. Offering your support can be a crucial first step in helping them mitigate potentially serious consequences caused by excessive stress, such as burnout, depression, anxiety, and even heart disease.

Here are some tips and strategies for helping a friend manage stress.

1. Help them spot the signs of stress

It’s easier to spot signs of stress in other people than it is to see them in ourselves. Often people don’t want to admit, even to themselves, that they’re starting to struggle.

Unfortunately, this means many people plough on, despite the warning signs, until they can no longer cope. If you’ve noticed changes in someone’s behaviour that suggests they’re feeling stressed, reach out to them. Let them know that you’ve noticed they don’t seem quite themselves. Even if they don’t engage in the conversation now, at least you’ve opened up the possibility for them to reach out to you in the future.

2. Listen

Talking things through openly with someone we trust can help us see things differently and find new solutions. Just knowing that somebody is there to listen can make a huge difference. Giving your time and undivided attention to someone who is feeling stressed is one of the best things you can do to support them.

3. Offer Support

When we’re feeling overwhelmed, it can be difficult to see a way out of a problem. Letting the person know that you can offer some support can help them feel understood and less alone in their experiences. Also, sharing your own experiences of stress and what worked for you can be helpful. This helps normalize the experience of stress and cues them to some potential solutions for themselves.

4. Help Them Identify Sources of their Stress

Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in one’s life. This isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. While it’s easy to identify major stressors such as a serious health issue, going through a divorce, or experiencing a loss, pinpointing the sources of chronic stress can be more complicated.

It’s all too easy to overlook more “mundane” things in life e.g., childcare responsibilities or involvement in volunteer activities, in addition to how one’s own thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, contribute to our everyday stress levels. For example, someone may be constantly worried about work deadlines, but maybe it’s their procrastination, rather than the actual job demands, that is causing the stress. Starting a stress journal may help them to identify regular stressors in their life that can be adding to the burden.

5. Offer Practical Support

If there’s a specific issue that’s causing someone to feel stressed, you may be able to help them find practical solutions that make the situation easier. Some examples include:

  • Paring down one’s to-do list. Help them review their schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. If they’ve got too much on their plate, suggest dropping tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.
  • Create a balanced schedule. All work and no play is a recipe for burnout. Suggest that they try shifting some things in their schedule to allocate more time for social activities, solitary pursuits, daily responsibilities, and downtime. It’s not always easy to do, but we can usually find at least a little time for ourselves if we start prioritizing our own health.
  • Establish boundaries. Help them set up some boundaries between work and home life. For example, rather than fuming about meetings that get scheduled before or after one’s normal work hours or with family commitments, encourage them to communicate their needs to their colleagues/manager.

6. Make Time for Fun and Relaxation

It’s so important for all of us to understand that prioritizing our own needs and allocating time for ourselves is not selfish, but a necessary component of healthy living. For example, many of us feel guilty when we’re not working or doing something that is “practical” with a tangible outcome. As such, we tend to struggle with embracing the notion that to be the best version of ourselves, and thus be the best partner, parent, or friend,  we need to invite fun and relaxation into our lives.

Nurturing ourselves is a necessity, not a luxury. If we regularly make time for fun and relaxation, we’ll be in a better place to handle life’s stressors. Help your friend set aside leisure time that includes rest and relaxation in their daily schedule.

7. Support Them to Seek Professional Help

If their stress and anxiety is impacting their day-to-day life, it might be time for them to seek some professional help. You can encourage them to consult a doctor, and to try talk therapy (psychotherapy) to get to the bottom of their stress – by sending them the link to our HeadsUpGuys Therapist Directory, so they can find a qualified a qualified professional in their area.

Written by the HeadsUpGuys Team - Combining lived experience, clinical practice, and research expertise. Reviewed and approved by Dr. John Ogrodniczuk - Professor and Director of the Psychotherapy Program at the Department of Psychiatry, The University of British Columbia.
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