5 ways to support a stressed-out friend

2 June 2021

Has a friend of yours been particularly stressed lately? Here are 5 easy ways you can show up as a friend and help them get through a difficult period.

Two girls walking down a very green street in the spring

We all feel stressed sometimes. Stress can manifest itself in a variety of emotional and physical ways, from irritability to headaches, and from tearfulness to digestive issues. What can we do to help when someone close to us tells us they are stressed?  

1. Choose your words carefully

Maybe your friend is stressed out by something that you find easy; maybe they are stressed about a relationship issue and you’ve been through worse - we can all compare ourselves to others but stress is individual. Try to listen, acknowledge and empathise with their stress, and be careful how you approach the issue. 

Things to avoid:

  • “At least….”
  •  “Just chill out.” 
  •  “I don’t understand why you are so stressed.”

Things that are helpful:

  • “I’m here for you.”
  • “I’m sorry to hear you feel stressed, how can I help?”
  • “Things can get better.”

2. Make life a little easier for them

If your friend’s stress is around a particular event or time, 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.

3. Get active together

Encourage your friend to leave the house and get moving. Exercise is proven to help with the symptoms of anxiety, but it can be hard to find the motivation when feeling stressed. By accompanying your friend, it can make it easier for them. Perhaps you could try a class together, or just go for a walk. It’s also a nice opportunity for your friend to take a break from whatever it is they are feeling stressed about.

 4. Have some fun!

Laughing and having fun can create physical and emotional changes in the body. Having fun can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. All of this can help to counteract the negative effects of stress. Your friend might find it hard to relax and enjoy themselves alone, so encourage them to join you for something fun. Perhaps you could have a movie night, go for a meal or go dancing!

5. Be watchful

Most episodes of stress will resolve themselves, but watch out for any symptoms in your friend that might indicate a bigger issue. If they are very withdrawn, are 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. 

And finally… remember that taking care of someone else can be hard on you, too. Take care of yourself and make sure you prioritise your own wellbeing as well as your friend’s. 

UCL Student Support and Wellbeing