Looking out for friends: how to help struggling peers?

Staying close with your friends may help your mental health.
Noticing if your friends are struggling has become difficult due to social distancing measures. Source: Paris Neto (via Flickr)
It is important to learn methods to look out for those around you, as it may have become easier to ignore the signs that your peers are struggling due to the large amounts of time that we are having to spend away from them due to coronavirus restrictions.

By Vicky Witts | Advice Editor

It is perhaps undoubtable that the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on many people’s mental health. Whether due to a fear of catching the virus, or the negative side-effects of not being able to see your friends or do the activities that you usually do, many of us are frequently feeling emotionally drained and overwhelmed.

Consequently, it is important to try and look out for those around you and offer your support, as it may have become easier to ignore the signs that your peers are struggling due to the large amounts of time that we are having to spend away from being with them in person. Although it may seem that it is more difficult to be able to connect with and reach out to your friends online than it would be in person, there are some things that you can do in order to make communicating between your friends a bit easier.

Learn to notice you friends’ moods

To properly be able to look out for your friends, you first may need to learn how to interpret their moods and identify when they may not be feeling quite themselves, so that you become better able to reach out and support them.

Therefore, you should aim to pay more attention to what your friends are saying and how they are acting, as a small change in their behaviour may indicate that they are struggling and perhaps do not feel that they are able to talk about it with anyone. Websites for groups such as Mind and the NHS have many resources than can help to teach you the signs of things such as depression, as well as other reasons why your friends may be in a negative mental mindset. However, everyone’s personality differs, and so, by learning how your friends act when they are not feeling themselves may be important to put you in the position where you are able to effectively reach out and help them.

Improving your listening skills

Part of learning to observe how your friends are feeling that can often be difficult, particularly if you yourself are particularly open or talkative, is making sure that you take time to listen to your friends without talking over them. Although this can seem hard as you may not even notice that you unintentionally do not give your friends time to share how they are feeling, learning how to take a step back and give your friends space to share their emotions can allow them to open up more to you in the future.

Try random acts of kindness

With all the negativity and depressing details in the news due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is likely that most of us feel that we are in need for some positivity and good news. However, with the inability to see each other in the same way as we used to caused by the pandemic, it can seem difficult to reach out to those around you.

One good way to implement small moments of positivity into your friends’ lives is by doing some random acts of kindness. For example, you could simply send them a card with a kind message or a small, inexpensive gift, or perhaps even do something as simple as complimenting them on a recent social media post. It may seem over the top or even silly, but if one of your friends are feeling particularly down, then receiving a small gesture of kindness may be what they need in order to start feeling a bit better.

Normalise saying how you feel

To some of us, talking about our emotions may come easily and they may not find that saying how they feel is difficult. However, for many people, expressing your emotions to your friends may feel very unnatural or even frightening, especially if you feel that as friends you are more reserved or less outgoing. Establishing a way of better communication with your friends and normalising open conversations is important, so that you and your friends will be comfortable to tell each other if you feel like you are struggling or need some support.

Perhaps a good way to begin opening up to one another is just to check in occasionally, whether once a day or once a week, and just say what you did throughout the day, what stressed you out, and what you particularly enjoyed. By doing this, you can begin to start a discourse with each other about your emotions, which will make it easier for your friends to open up to you if they are feeling that they are struggling with anything in the future.

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