Friends Wellbeing

Look after your mates: 6 ways to support a stressed-out friend

Reading Time: 3 minutes

We all feel stressed or anxious sometimes. Now add academic pressure, exams, essays and deadlines into the mix and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Stress can manifest itself in a variety of emotional and physical ways, from irritability to headaches, and from tearfulness to digestive issues. But what can we do to help when someone close to us tells us they are stressed or anxious?

Here are 6 ways you can be there for your friends and support them through the next few weeks:

1. Listen to them

Sometimes people just need someone who will listen to them. Before they start thinking about what they should do next, allow them the time to vent about their feelings and get everything off their chest. When listening, really let the person get their full thought out before responding to show the person that what they’re saying is important, then ask questions instead of jumping in with your own personal experience. 

If someone is stuck in an anxious thought spiral, it might be hard for them to stop the ‘loop’ and shut down the worry. Having a friend talk them through it in a logical and calm way can really help. Remember to be understanding if they need this support more than once.

2. Do something nice

If your friend is stressed out and not taking time to look after themselves the best they could, think about how you could take the pressure off for them. Maybe you could drop in with a nourishing meal for them, help them out with a practical task or offer to do some collaborative work with them. Things can feel more manageable for people when they know they can share the load.

If someone is feeling anxious, encouraging them to eat regularly and to reduce their caffeine intake can really help. Food can help step in to stop the jitters, while caffeine can increase them and exacerbate the anxious feelings.

3. Slow Down or Speed Up

Sometimes the best thing you can do is help slow things down. It can feel impossible to sit still if you are feeling anxious but encouraging them to take some time to check in with themselves through grounding exercises, a meditation video or mindful yoga can be really helpful. Even just a few yoga stretches like cat cow or child’s pose might help them re-focus. Keep in mind that these are not about shutting out the noise entirely, but finding stillness within it and being able to bring your focus back when your thoughts go spiralling.

If they are too adrenaline filled and need to shake it off, other types of exercise might be better. If they need to get a quick burst of energy out maybe you could put on a dance video or go for a quick jog or brisk walk together. Even a trip to the shops could change things up. Exercise is proven to help with anxiety, but it can be hard to find the motivation in yourself when feeling stressed out. By going along with your friend, it can make it easier for them. It’s also a nice opportunity for your friend to take their mind off their exams and take a well-deserved break. 

 4. Have some fun

It’s easy for some people to feel guilty that they’re not studying 24/7, but a few hours of fun won’t derail anyone’s revision or studying. Find a time when your friend can have some downtime and plan something fun – whether that’s a snack break or a night in with friends, it’ll help everyone to take their minds off work for a little while. 

Maybe invite your friend out to blow off some steam and go for a night out, gig or event. You are allowed to have fun even when you have deadlines or exams. This can help replenish their energy and remind them that they’re more than their grades.

5. Be their study or work partner

Some people work well alone when it comes to study but others can work differently. You could set up a shared work space to give them some company, or if you have time, offer to help them with their revision and run through notes together. Some people, especially some neurodivergent people can really benefit from ‘body doubling’ where two people work side by side more productively, it can help to have someone to hold them accountable. You can also point them to online resources like the Library’s My Learning Essentials and My Research Essentials.

6. Speak to someone

Most episodes of stress and anxiety will resolve themselves, but watch out for any symptoms in your friend that might indicate a bigger issue. If you feel that things might be more serious, you might like to read about how to start a conversation about mental health. If they are withdrawn, having regular trouble sleeping, experiencing physical issues like headaches or nausea, or if you just feel like something ‘isn’t quite right’ with them, encourage your friend to seek help from their GP or to contact the University’s Mental Health and Counselling Service to talk to someone who can help them through it. 

And finally, remember that taking care of someone else can be hard on you, too. Take care of yourself and make sure you also prioritise looking after yourself.

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