How to check in on your friends

In these times of social distancing and isolation we know it’s more important than ever to check in on our friends. Especially the ones that are more vulnerable. Maybe they live alone, are single parents, are struggling mentally, or have a lot of weight on their shoulders due to lack of money or sick relatives. Or any combination of those things.

But, it’s not always that easy, right?

Often the people who most need connection are the hardest to reach. The friend that goes off the radar — doesn’t answer messages or pick up calls. Or the friend that insists they are fine and shuts down conversations about real stuff. Or, perhaps when they do call you back your heart sinks a bit, knowing it’s probably not going to be a ‘fun’ conversation. You may have no idea what you could offer this person — after all, you can’t solve any of their problems.

Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

I wanted to write about this as I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling guilty that it’s not always easy to ‘check in’ on some of my friends.

Here are a few things that occurred to me over the last few weeks that might make it easier to offer your support.

Speaking from personal experience, when you’re feeling very low you often shrink away from friends. Why would they possibly want to talk to you? You have nothing to offer them. But, the sheer fact that someone has messaged or called, even if you are incapable of replying, counts for a lot. You are loved. People still care for you.

A dear friend of mine, when I was in hospital with post natal depression would just text me about her day, always in her typical funny and self-deprecating style. She told me she felt like it was desperately inadequate, but to me it meant that people still cared, all was not lost.

2. You just need to listen

You might have a friend in a desperate situation of one kind or another. It can feel like you can’t possibly help. Feeling that urge to offer a solution to them. But the simple act of unburdening yourself to a friend can provide huge relief. Having someone simply listen and offer understanding makes people feel less alone. Ask open questions, acknowledge out loud how shit it is for them. You can’t change the situation but you can stand by their side.

Photo by Alex Ivashenko on Unsplash

3. Little and often goes a long way

At times it can feel like we are bombarded with messages. But how many of them are tailored to us, offering compassion and understanding? How many messages is your isolated friend getting? If you have a friend who is remote now, not replying to your messages — now is the time to keep the communication going, no matter how one-sided it is right now.

Tell them what you admire about them, random facts from your day. Perhaps leave a voice note — something I have recently discovered and enjoy receiving. Hearing an old friend’s voice can be such a tonic. Often your good friends remind you of who you really are, how you used to feel when times were better. Being reminded of this true version of yourself can be healing.

It doesn’t have to be a long message. But, every few days, just checking in and letting someone know they are loved and that you aren’t going anywhere makes such a difference.

4. Rally your troops

It can be emotionally draining and (let’s be honest) even feel burdensome, trying to support a struggling friend. Now could be the time to check in with mutual friends to see if they are also able to be in touch, to compare notes on your friend, and share the load of emotional support. Everyone has a unique relationship with them and insights that could help you ensure you’re supporting in the best way possible.

Maybe the friend has small children and finds it impossible to pick up the phone (and feels extra guilty as a result) but enjoys getting random messages and memes. Maybe they actually need space right now and will let you know when they’re ready. At a low ebb, expressing your needs can be really hard and some friends are easier than others to share them with.

5. It’s never too late

…to get in touch. However guilty you may feel, a good friend will forgive you. It’s always better late than never.

I hope this helps. If you’re wondering whether to contact someone — do it now.

If people have other tips, I’d love to hear them. And remember the old saying, a friend in need is a friend indeed x

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Sarah Tulej

Northerner living in Rotterdam via East London. 🎉 Intersectional environmentalist, photo snapper, charity shopper 🌱