From scrambling to meet deadlines to navigating major life changes, we all deal with stress at different times in our lives.
Of course, having to deal with negative stress (known technically as distress) is rarely an enjoyable process. And because of this, many of us have developed strategies to reduce that feeling of overwhelm in different ways.
(Looking for tips to reduce your stress? Be sure to check out my post here!)
But what about when your friend, spouse, or family member deal with stress? What can you do to give them a hand?
With April being stress awareness month, I’d like to explore this very question by talking about how to identify and help others cope with stress.
How to Help Others with Stress
What is Stress?
As WebMd explains, “[s]tress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses.”
Seeing as our lives are filled with changes, both big and small, it’s completely normal for us to experience stress. And in fact, some stress (known as eustress) is actually a good thing. It can help motivate and focus our energies. It can create excitement around a task or project. And it can even improve performance.
When we don’t have relief from the constant pressure of stress, however, that’s when it becomes harmful. And while people respond differently to potentially stressful events, some of the more common negative stressors include:
- Over scheduling/overcommitment
- Looming deadlines that don’t quit
- Financial struggles
- Severe or chronic health issues
- Caring for an elderly or sick family member
- Working long hours
- Job loss
- Working in dangerous situations
- Unhappiness in your job or at home
How to Recognize Stress in Others
While we all respond differently to stress, there are also some universal signs that indicate people have moved beyond eustress and into the distress category.
Some of these signs of distress include:
- Irritability and mood change
- Trouble concentrating
- Having a hard time thinking about anything but the stressor
- Difficulty relaxing
- Avoiding social situations
- Feeling bad about themselves
- Fidgeting and restlessness
- Not getting enough sleep
- Eating too little or too much
Top 5 Ways to Help Others With Stress
So what can we do? How can we help others struggling with stress?
One of the most helpful things you can do is simply listen.
Ask the person about the source of their stress, and really focus on their answer. This allows you to have a better understanding of their situation, while also allowing your loved one to voice their problems out loud.
Also, be careful not to interrupt.
Simply allow your friend or family member to talk it through. And as you listen, think about how you could lend a hand.
If you have someone who’s reluctant to open up, consider giving them this stress management worksheet first. Ask them to fill it out, and then offer to chat with them, if they’re willing, about their responses.
Help Lighten the Load
In certain situations, helping out and lightening the load is key. After listening to everything your loved one shares about their struggles, ask if there is anything that you can do to help.
Often times, people will offer a “knee-jerk” response and say, “no, I’m fine.” If this is the case, consider suggesting a specific way that you can help.
For example, my husband, Ryan, had an overflowing to-do list this weekend. He had to get ready for his gigs on Friday and Saturday night, prepare for a band rehearsal on Sunday, communicate with his wedding clients for an upcoming wedding, and about a million other things.
Needless to say, his list was long.
Since I know Ryan, and I know he often has the knee-jerk “I got this” response, I opted to offer specific assistance. “Why don’t I run to the store and pick up a new dress shirt and shoes for your Monday night gig?” “I’ll take care of XYZ, don’t worry about that right now.” Etc.
By offering to take the little tasks off someone’s plate, you’re helping lighten the load while providing them with more space to breathe.
Energy is contagious. So when we’re surrounded by others feeling stress, it’s easy to get worked up ourselves.
Remember, however, that this works both ways.
If you maintain calm, and you stay collected even with chaos unfolding around you, you will communicate that strength and control to your loved one as well.
Work Out a Schedule
Sometimes when we’re overwhelmed, we’re entirely focused on keeping our head above water. Because of this, it’s often difficult to see alternate solutions to our challenges.
If your friend or loved one seems swamped, and they’re struggling to manage their time, help them to see the bigger picture. Listen to their challenges, and then work with them to map out a plan to complete their tasks.
(If you’re looking for scheduling strategies, be sure to check out my post on time blocking here!)
It is also important to recognize when situations are severe, and your friend or loved one needs professional help.
While this might feel uncomfortable to suggest, it doesn’t have to. And in fact, talking openly about the option is one of the best things you can do, as it helps to remove the unnecessary stigma society has built up around mental health.
So talk with your loved one about this important option, especially if their stress is unmanageable. There are many resources available, whether that’s seeing their doctor, seeking out palliative care, or meeting with a therapist. The key is to bring these suggestions to their attention, as it’s sometimes hard for the person in distress to even to see the options out there.
So the next time your loved one is in stress, take the first step and reach out. Offer to listen and lend a helping hand. Keep calm, and work with them to create a schedule to accomplish their tasks. And if necessary, help them find additional resources to get back on their feet.
If you have a friend in stress, be sure to download this free stress management worksheet for them. Ask them to fill it out, and then talk through their answers with them. It will help both of you work toward a positive solution.
How do you help others with stress? How do you deal with stress personally? Let me know below!