On July 30th of every year, the United Nations dedicates this day to recognise the value and importance of friendship to our lives as human beings; as friendship inspires peace, fosters happiness, and builds bridges within communities.
With friendship on the brain, we’ve been thinking a lot about how truly important our friends are to our mental health. They make us laugh, lift us up, and can provide safety and security in times where we need it most. Not only that but being a good friend to others has actually been proven to improve our own health; so it really is a win-win.
Over time though, friendships can change. We all have experiences in our lives that shape who we are, and this can impact our ability to handle conflict, maintain friendships, and make new friends. If you or one of your friends are struggling with your mental health, here are some tips for navigating your friendship through tough times.
When YOU are struggling:
When we are struggling, it can be difficult to find the energy to make plans, get out of the house, and enjoy the things that we used to love doing. However, letting ourselves become more isolated can often worsen symptoms over time and lead to increased feelings of low mood and loneliness. It can also be easy to think to ourselves that we do not add value to our friendships because we are “damaged” or “unworthy”; this cannot be further from the truth! Believe it or not, you can still be a good friend, even if you are currently struggling with your mental health.
Here’s some tips you can try:
- Schedule a special time to see each other
You don’t have to be back to your full schedule or routine, and you certainly don’t have to plan an extravagant activity; but, you can make an effort to make plans with your friends to do something simple that you are both comfortable with and can look forward to. It’s easy to think that you’ll just catch up with them when you’re feeling better, but it’s important that we try to maintain the friendship even when we’re down. Using the “R.E.D.” approach, you can come up with hundreds of ideas for things to do! (Everyone’s lists will be different, but here’s ours!)
Relaxation: go back to your favourite yoga class, plan a spa afternoon, spend time in nature, or invite them over for tea and cake at home
Exercise: go for a walk/run together, participate in your favourite team sport, plan a hike in nature, or go for a swim
Distraction: watch your favourite film or TV series on the sofa, go to a gig, prepare a meal together, or run errands together and stop for a coffee on the way
Even though you may not feel like it, planning regular activities with your friends will not only boost your mood in the moment but also helps to maintain the relationship over time. Aim to get something in the diary once a month, and you may find yourself hanging out with your pals more often than that!
- Talk and share how you feel
It’s not easy, but it’s important to remember that no matter how we feel about ourselves, good friends are there to help us through whatever we are going through.
Like the saying, “a problem shared is a problem halved”, speaking with a friend who you trust is a great first step in overcoming any struggle with mental health. It can be hard to open up to them, but starting the conversation is a crucial first step towards getting help.
If you’re having trouble talking about how you’re feeling, here’s some fantastic advice from our qualified counsellor, Emma Browne, about how to have these tricky conversations with each other when we are struggling.
For long-distance friends: If you want to catch up with someone who is long-distance, it may be difficult to call them on the phone or see them in person on a regular basis. Our contributor, Ilsa Swann, however, sees this as an opportunity to write letters, as she finds it way more therapeutic than typing or sending a message on social media.
“Personally, I think writing a letter is WAY better than sending a text to your long-distance friend, and there are some benefits that you may not think about. First of all, there is no character limit like in a text, so you can ramble on as much as you like. You can even create fun little drawings to help illustrate your story! Additionally, when you have no access to a phone or data, you can always save the letter as something special to hold on to and read when you’re feeling down” – Ilsa Swann
Writing helps many people process their thoughts and feelings, sometimes even better than typing on a phone or laptop. If you feel like you need help sharing how you feel with your friends – try writing them a letter! Your mind and your friend will thank you for it!
- Remember to be considerate of their perspective
It can be easy to become obsessed with how we feel and forget about how our actions can impact the way others feel. For example, if you are feeling too down to call your buddy on their birthday, they may feel forgotten and hurt. Making an effort to do even the smallest things like a phone call can help to prevent a relationship from gradually breaking down over time.
Additionally, given that 1 in 4 of people in the UK will experience some type of mental health problem each year, it is highly likely that you are not the only person within your circle of friends who is struggling. Your friends need you just as much as you need them, and it’s important that we are aware that they may be going through something as well. Things like sending a card or calling for a chat are things that take minimal time and money, but can go miles in helping you feel more connected and your friends feel more supported.
When YOUR FRIEND is struggling:
- Prioritise time to talk
If one of your best mates is feeling down or you notice they don’t seem like themselves, make sure to double-check that they’re feeling okay by simply striking up a conversation. They may not be comfortable opening up to you straight away, but it’s important that they know that they can come to you if they need to. Reassuring them of this can help them feel secure and supported in the friendship, and can help you both grow closer together as friends.
- Be patient and persistent
Eating disorders, depression, anxiety, trauma, and many other challenges can take years to overcome; with many people often battling symptoms their entire life. It’s easy to stay friends when everything is going great, but it takes true commitment and effort to stay friends through the dark times as well.
Even if it seems like your friend may never get better, stay patient and consistently remind them that you are there for them. Without being pushy, let them know on a regular basis that you care about them and that they can talk to you if they need to. Friendship is all about being there for each other in the peaks as well as the valleys – so keep this in mind when your friend is struggling.
- Be inclusive
We all have that friend who always says “no” to invitations because they are either feeling anxious, depressed, “busy”, or have no energy to leave the house. It can feel like pulling teeth to get them to come out, and you can go months without actually seeing them in person. It’s important that with these friends we continue to invite them out for activities – even when they always say no.
We don’t want to lose touch with them over time, and even a simple “Hi, wanted to let you know that we’re all going for a meal this weekend and we’d love to have you there” can go a long way. You never know when they will eventually say “yes” and it’s so important that we don’t allow ourselves forget about them.
We hope these tips will help to strengthen your friendships now and in the future! On this International Day of Friendship, take a moment to remind your pals how much they mean to you!
To learn more about this day, you can find more information here.
If you or someone you know is struggling with your mental health, a good place to start is our self-help resource here at www.thelilyjoproject.com/#help.
If you feel that you would benefit from a confidential chat, we recommend contacting the Samaritans helpline at 116 123.
If you need face to face support, we recommend making an appointment with your GP and in emergencies attending an A&E centre.
Take care this week!
Writer and Editor at The Lily-Jo Project