• How to Help a Friend in Crisis

    How to Help a Friend in Crisis

    Every day, people we know and people we don’t, ask us the basic and simple question “how are you?” The majority of time, our answer is “I’m fine.”

    This automatic response is so ingrained in us, that even if someone responded, “I am NOT fine,” most people might not even notice.

    So how do we know when our friends and family members are suffering from unmanageable challenges in their lives? Experts tell us that nonverbal signs can tell us a great deal about a person’s emotional and mental stability.

    These nonverbal cues take many forms. For example:

    • Body language such as body movements and facial expressions. For example, is the person usually calm and suddenly you find them tapping their foot or wringing their hands when you talk to them?
    • Eye contact. Looking someone else in the eyes is a nonverbal sign of confidence and how interested a person is in the communication taking place. It could also suggest trust and truthfulness. The opposite is also true. Not looking directly at others could signal avoidance, fear and unease.
    • Fatigue and isolation in someone who is usually energetic and engaging is frequently an indicator of an overload of stress or other emotional issues. When the mind is emotionally overwhelmed, the body shuts down

    As a friend or family member, you are more apt to notice these changes in behavior in others and simply asking “how are you” may not be enough.

    If you believe the person is in distress or crisis there are a few things you can, and should, do:

    1. Be an active listener

    Just by allowing the other person to openly tell their story without interruption or judgement can provide a sense of relief. Stop yourself from asking too many questions, and focus on being calm, patient and compassionate.

    1. Avoid pleasing and fixing

    When you care about someone, it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to fix things for them. You can’t…and trying to do so may actually cause more harm than good. But what you can do is help point them in the direction of other resources, professionals, support groups, etc. Just know the limits of your abilities and avoid the temptation to try to solve serious issues for friends and family on your own.

    1. Physical support and comfort

    When someone you know is experiencing a crisis, breaking the cycle, even for just a moment can help. Friends and family members become unaware of their physical changes and simply just breathing with them can bring comfort. Guiding them through the process of taking slow, deep breaths will enable greater oxygen intake and reduce anxiousness.

    1. Take action if there is danger

    The emotions of despair, hopelessness and unhappiness can escalate quickly. Do not ignore the friend or relative who mentions suicide, even if they mention it in passing as a joke. Be aware of dangerous behaviors such as excessive alcohol use or drug abuse. Individuals in crisis who turn to illegal substances often ask you to keep their secret. Let them know that there might be situations where you have to confide in others to keep them safe, but reassure your friend that you will never disclose their information for any other reason.

    Helping a friend in crisis is not easy. They may not seem to respond to your support and may even reject your help. This is not unusual. Above all, you must also remember to take care of yourself, understand your limitations and realize the issues that brought your friend or family member to this point is not your fault.

    Audrey Beim holds two advanced degrees from major universities, including a Master’s Degree in Psychology. She has over 20 years of experience in the health, wellness, nutritional and fitness categories and has used her expertise to write articles for media outlets such as Linfield Media and Examiner.com.

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