February 20, 2018, by Anya
A Friend in Need…
I want you to sift through your memories of the last few years. Do you remember a time when a friend had a crisis? A breakup, a failed paper, maybe? Counselling a friend through a difficult time is one of the almost universal experiences of coming to university. Most people will be away from home and family, and won’t have their usual support networks to fall back on. Here are a few tips for when you find yourself soaked in someone else’s tears, desperately trying to think of a better way to help than making another cup of tea.
You won’t always have the solution.
Sometimes, when someone is very upset, they want advice. If you have a unique insight into your friend’s problem, by all means, share it. This isn’t usually the case, though. People most often reach out to a friend because they want comfort, or someone to commiserate with. Your first instinct is quite rightly to help in any way you can, but sometimes that help is better in the form of hugs, food, blankets, and distraction.
There’s no virtue in suffering too.
When your friend is going through something horrible, it’s quite natural to feel upset yourself, but there’s nothing to be gained by feeling as bad as they do. Insulating yourself emotionally is difficult at the best of times, but it’s really important to treat yourself gently while you’re caring for someone else. Make sure you meet your own needs, eat regularly, drink enough water, get some sleep. You can’t effectively help your friend if you’re a sleep-deprived zombie who can only think about how much you want a pizza. Admittedly, that describes many students normally, but the point still stands.
Tea is a classic for a reason.
Okay, not necessarily tea, but helping your friend take care of themselves can be the most effective way to make them feel better. Offering them a meal or a hot beverage can make a real difference to their mood. When really upset, it’s easy to forget to eat, and to end up dehydrated and sleep deprived, and this doesn’t help any situation. You can’t do everything, but a cup of tea is a start.
Get outside help.
Minor crises are a normal part of student life (all life), but sometimes you may find yourself out of your depth. You aren’t (I assume) a trauma counsellor, a grief counsellor, a CBT therapist, or a branch of Student Services. Sometimes, a situation is a little too complex or worrying, and outside help is necessary. You can help your friend get in touch with their personal tutor or the University Counselling Service, make a doctor’s appointment, or contact their family or home community. It’s also important to remember that no matter how much you care, your friend is not your responsibility, and there is limit to what you can do to help.
So remember, university is a challenging stage in life, but it can be a brilliant one, with a little help from your friends.