How to take care of yourself when your friend is going through tough times?

Think of this time like a marathon; you need extra sustenance to keep yourself going. You are not betraying your friend if you are choosing to focus on yourself. It is important for you to recognise that you are not responsible for your friend’s recovery. You can provide them with support and encouragement, but it is their responsibility to get back to normal. The following ideas will help you keep your strength up as you support your friend or loved one if they are going through recovery. 

Speak up for yourself. You may be hesitant to speak out when the person with a mental wellbeing problem in your life upsets you or lets you down. However, honest communication will actually help the relationship in the long run. If you’re suffering in silence and letting resentment build, your loved one will pick up on these negative emotions and feel even worse. Gently talk about how you’re feeling before pent-up emotions make it too hard to communicate with sensitivity.

Set boundaries. Of course, you want to help, but you can only do so much. Your own health will suffer if you let your life be controlled by your friend’s mental wellbeing problem. You can’t be a caretaker round the clock without paying a psychological price. To avoid burnout and resentment, set clear limits on what you are willing and able to do. You are not your friend’s therapist, so don’t take on that responsibility.

Stay on track with your own life. While some changes in your daily routine may be unavoidable while caring for your friend, do your best to keep appointments and plans with friends. If your friend is unable to go on an outing or trip you had planned, ask a friend to join you instead.

Seek support. You are NOT betraying your friend by turning to others for support. Joining a support group, talking to a counselor or chaplain, or confiding in a trusted friend will help you get through this time. You don’t need to go into detail about your friend’s mental wellbeing problems or betray confidences; instead, focus on your emotions and what you are feeling. Make sure you can be totally honest with the person you turn to—no judging your emotions!

What is mental wellbeing?
How to start a conversation with your friend about their mental wellbeing?
What to say and not say to a person going through tough times?

Source: Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. in collaboration with Harvard University and NHS