When a friend, co-worker, or family member is going through a difficult time, we want to show up for them and show we care — but oftentimes, it can be challenging to know how we can help in a way that’s both thoughtful and respectful of what they’re going through. And yet, research tells us that making small efforts to reach out and lend our emotional support can help ease their stress. 

We asked our Thrive community to share with us the small ways they’ve been able to show up for someone in their lives during a difficult time. Which of these ideas will you try?

Bring over a home-cooked meal

“I’m a big believer in home-cooked meals being good for the body and soul for people who are recovering from surgery or are seriously ill. I love to cook, so it’s easy to whip up some food and drop it off on their front porches! I typically include several different proteins, some simple pasta and bread, garlic mashed potatoes (they make everything better!), a salad or veggies, and a few sweet treats.”

 —Karen C., PR, marketing and philanthropy consulting, Dallas, TX

Offer to come over and talk

“When my mom passed away, it was comforting when friends and family sat with me in my pain. Space was created for me to cry and vent. They would listen to me, validate my feelings and hold me.” 

—Blair Kaplan Venables, resilience expert, British Columbia, Canada

Take time to just listen

“So often, when someone is going through a difficult time, we think we don’t have good advice to offer or we don’t know what to say. But being there for someone else — especially those who matter to us the most — is one of the most important things we can do as humans to deepen and strengthen our connections. And all it takes is a surprisingly simple (although not always easy) skill. It’s the beautiful art of listening — listening with compassion, without distractions, and with our entire presence. You don’t have to have the perfect words or encouragement. Just put aside your own life, and just be there with your whole heart to truly listen.”

—Annie Bauer, coach, Asheville, NC

Drop off a care package

“When people in my life are going through a difficult time, it feels good to show them I care by dropping off a care package. Sometimes the package includes a home cooked meal, or a batch of my delicious chocolate chip cookies. Other times, the package might be a card to let them know I am thinking of them and sending love, along with bright colored flowers or some bath salts. The gesture always involves a hand-written note and something a little extra to know they aren’t alone.”

—Emily Madill, certified professional coach (ACC) and author, Nanaimo, B.C., Canada

Offer to walk the dog

“A small way I’ve shown a family member, friend or colleague some caring when they are going through a hard time is by walking their dog. Most of my friends have dogs and when they are going through a hard time, often the dog doesn’t get the same walks he or she is used to. So usually I’ll go over and give them a walk and some love and playtime. This lifts the weight of a responsibility off my friend’s shoulders so they can focus on taking care of themselves and it brings me some joy too as I love a good walk and dog love!”

—Sarah Rudman, healthcare operations, Boston, MA

Use comforting language

“When someone is going through a hard time, it’s important not to say ‘I can imagine’ or ‘I understand,’ because you don’t. And saying something like ’It’s for the best’ is often not helpful. Instead, let your friend know that you hear them, and you’re there for them. Ask them what would be helpful at this moment.”

—Carolyn Mahboubi, certified master coach, CA

Text them to check in

“I started doing ‘heart check-ins’ about a year ago and I encourage others to do so within their circles. A heart check-in is more than a hello.  It’s intentional. It’s all about checking in with a friend and giving them a moment to pause, inhale/exhale, and then share how they are genuinely feeling at the moment. The intention is to invite them to feel. For example, if I notice someone has been ‘quiet’ online for a while, I’ll reach out directly. It could be with a GIF, an emoji, or simply a text that says, ‘You’ve been coming to mind recently so I wanted to do a heart check in. How are you my friend?’”

—Maryrose Solis, marketing executive, San Diego, CA

Bring over dinner ingredients

“When a friend is going through a hard time, I’ve been known to drop in with all the makings for a home cooked Italian meal. There’s nothing like a little comfort food, tomato sauce that needs stirring in a pot, garlic bread toasting in the oven, to take your mind off of a stressful situation, or get someone to open up and breathe a bit. Taking someone out of their environment, allowing them space to vent or just sitting there with them in silence over a good glass of wine and letting them know I’m there, has helped heal many a broken heart or helped to ease a worrisome situation.”

—Elaine Hamilton, author, Santa Fe, NM

Be present and listen without judgments 

“The holiday season can be tougher than normal for many — myself included, having lost my father to cancer at this time. Simply being present and listening with no judgment is the greatest gift you can bestow upon someone you care about. I know for me, it’s a wonderful and heartwarming experience.” 

—Joshua Miller, master certified executive coach, Austin, TX

Volunteer to help with the kids

“As a mental health professional, I advise others not to just say they’re thinking about someone who’s going through a difficult time, but to actually show up whenever possible. That may mean arranging for a daily or weekly phone call, dropping off or having a favorite meal delivered, or volunteering to babysit their child. People really do remember and appreciate the kind actions of support.”

—Kristin Meekhof, author and therapist, Royal Oak, MI

Tell them one specific way you want to help

“One thing I’ve learned about people going through a hard time is they often face decision fatigue, where making decisions becomes extremely difficult and can even be quite distressing. To support someone at this time, rather than ask what you can do for them, tell them something specific you are going to do.  In the past, this has looked like telling a colleague I’ll be attending a meeting on their behalf and taking notes for them so they can leave early, or telling a friend I’ve hired a cleaner for them at a certain time and will be taking them out for a coffee while their house is cleaned. When done gently and respectfully, telling rather than asking provides mental relief and tangible support at a time when people need it most.”

—Sarah Vizer, high performance coach, Queensland, Australia

Be a sounding board for them

“I feel very strongly about providing a safe and comfortable space for friends and family members to be entirely vulnerable with their emotions during difficult times. I encourage this by letting them know that as much as they may feel the need to be consistently strong, it is okay to sit with some of the more uncomfortable emotions and to express these. Denied or unrecognized emotions can fester. I let them know that I am there to be their sounding board and confidante, and allow them to release all emotions that may have bottled up, without judgment.”

Author(s)

  • Rebecca Muller

    Senior Editor and Community Manager

    Thrive

    Rebecca Muller Feintuch is the Senior Editor and Community Manager at Thrive. Her previous work experience includes roles in editorial and digital journalism. Rebecca is passionate about storytelling, creating meaningful connections, and prioritizing mental health and self-care. She is a graduate of New York University, where she studied Media, Culture and Communications with a minor in Creative Writing. For her undergraduate thesis, she researched the relationship between women and fitness media consumerism.