Pressing Pause Podcast episode 29 How to help someone who’s struggling
Welcome to Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers.
I’m Gabrielle Treanor and I’m here to share with you ideas, inspiration and actions to empower you to spend less time overthinking and worrying and more time enjoying your life.
Hello and welcome. Before I share episode 29 with you I want to share some pretty exciting news. If you get my weekly emails or follow me on social media you may have seen that I have just launched my coaching services so you can now work with me one-to-one as your overthinking coach. We can talk about what's going on in your life that's stressing you out, the knots you feel tied up in trying to keep in control and take care of everyone and everything, and the 'what if' thoughts that spin through your mind and make you feel stuck.
Together we'll start the untangling, we'll look at how you want to feel, what you want your life to look like, and we'll make a plan to start clearing the path that you want to walk along. I won’t push you in a direction I think you should take, and I won’t tell you which way to go. I’ll use my years of knowledge and experience dealing with overthinking to support you to find the way forward that's right for you, that you want, and be right by your side every step of the way.
If you’ve had enough of feeling stuck in your head, if you feel ready to take action and you’re interested in working with me one-to-one go to theoverthinkerscoach.com where you’ll find all the info on my coaching services and my special introductory offer. If you have any questions please do email me email@example.com or fill in the form on the coaching page.
Now, onto episode 29. Today I’m taking the focus away from ourselves and instead looking at what we can do to help someone else who’s having a tough time. Overthinkers live in their heads, a lot, and can get bogged down with what’s going on in their own lives, how they feel about something or how something is affecting them. Moving that focus away from your own thinking to direct it on someone else and their needs can not only help give your brain a break from all the thoughts, but also help you feel better because you’re helping someone else. Being kind to other people, altruistic activity, has been shown to boost the wellbeing of not only the person on the receiving end but also the one giving the help.
Everyone faces challenges and difficulties, some people find daily life a struggle while others suddenly have to deal with a life-impacting event. And what everyone who’s having a tough time needs is to feel someone cares about them and is there to support them. What that support looks like differs depending on the individual, what helps one person might be completely unhelpful to the next.
You might feel you’ve had a similar experience or you think you know what they’re going through and so believe that what helped you will help them. And it might. But it also might not. Sharing your own experience can be useful information to the person who’s struggling but telling them what they should do because it helped you, is not so helpful. When someone is having a tough time, feeling like they should do something because their well meaning friend told them to just heaps pressure on to them when they really don’t need it. So instead offer up your own experience purely as information that they’re welcome to take or leave if they don’t feel it’s helpful to them.
It can be hard to know what to say to a friend or colleague when something terrible has happened in their life. You want to be there for your friend and you’re ready to be helpful but just saying ‘I’m here if you need me’ can be too vague. Research professor Brené Brown suggests simply asking ‘what does support look like right now?’ This lets the struggling friend know that you’re ready and willing to offer support and you’re inviting them to tell you what they need. So that could be listening to them unload, taking them on a night out so they can forget their troubles for a few hours, driving them to an appointment or picking up the kids from school.
There will be some people in your life who have ongoing, perhaps life-long, challenges. They may have good days and bad days and it’s hard to know, first of all what kind of day they’re having, and secondly how you can help them. The simple question ‘how are you?’ is actually so broad it’s hard to answer with any real meaning. How am I in life? Well, fine I suppose. It’s a nothingy question that doesn’t invite a full answer as to what’s really going on with you. But ask ‘how are you today?’ and the addition of that one word ‘today’ makes the question much more meaningful. It focuses on how the person is feeling right now and allows them to be more honest because it suggests that you really are interested in how they are. So they could answer that today is not good because of whatever explanation they give. Or they could answer that they’re feeling okay today after a really difficult week. Or they could answer ‘how are you today’ in a multitude of different ways that allow them to share honestly how they’re feeling and give you both the opportunity to talk about what they’re dealing with and how you might be able to offer support. Try it for yourself and see.
When you see a friend or a loved one who’s feeling really challenged and struggling in life, perhaps they’re unhappy in their relationship, their job makes them miserable, their unhealthy habits are making them ill, or whatever it might be, it can be so tempting to charge in there and tell them what to do. You can see clearly what they should do to make their life better and if they just listen to you they’d be happier. And yet they don’t, they continue as they are and you find it incredibly frustrating.
And that’s the frustration that you have to live with. Because you can’t fix everyone, it isn’t your job to fix people. You can listen, make suggestions, find out information for them, provide whatever support you can but, ultimately, you can’t change a person’s life for them. However much you want to and however much you believe that you can make their life better. As adults we can love and care for each other but we are, essentially, responsible for ourselves and if someone doesn’t want to make the changes or take the steps that you think they should, that’s their decision. Be there for them in whatever capacity feels doable for you but if you take on the responsibility for their life you’re not only disempowering them you’re also going to increase the stress and upset you feel and no-one benefits in this situation.
There are some struggles that someone we care about is experiencing that we really can’t help with. Grief is one example. And it’s okay, they know this is something that they have to work through themselves, that no-one else can take the pain away for them. But what does help is knowing that you care, that you empathise with them. You’re not feeling sorry for them, you’re sitting with them, holding their hand, perhaps metaphorically and you’re there to listen to them, cry with them, rail against the unfairness of life with them, and be there for them in whatever way they need. When my father was dying I had friends who did all of those things and it meant so much because they were with me, sometimes in person and sometimes over the phone but they were with me just the same.
Just knowing that you have a friend who’s thinking of you, sending you messages to let you know they care, and expecting nothing in return can be an enormous source of comfort and strength. And when your friend’s life seems to be back to normal, when time has gone by, they seem to be their old selves and they say they’re fine, double check if they really are as fine as they say they are and let them know you’re still there for them to talk to or for you to listen.
Each of us is unique and we each deal with challenges differently. What helped you may not help your friend but letting them know that you care and that you’re ready to support them in whatever way they feel is helpful will mean a huge amount to them. Try using the questions ‘how are you today?’ and ‘what does support look like right now?’ and see how they feel and what response you get. I’d love to hear how you get on. You can always email me firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Instagram as @gabrielletreanor. For the show notes for this and all the episodes go to gabrielletreanor.com/podcast.
Thanks for listening, until next time, lovely people.