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How to help friends in crisis due to the coronavirus

Even if you can’t give your friend a hug, or take them out for dinner, there are ways you can help them cope during a difficult period.

How to help friends in crisis due to the coronavirus
[Photo: Inside Weather/Unsplash]

In just a few weeks, everything has changed. The spread of COVID-19 has forced professionals across all industries to figure how to navigate a new normal. While each of us are impacted, some are seeing more grave consequences than others.

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One of the most challenging aspects of this pandemic is that due to physical distancing, we often can’t directly support our friends and family members who are struggling. But even if you can’t give your friend a hug right now, or take them out for dinner, there are ways you can help them cope during a difficult period.

First and foremost, psychotherapist and author Jenny Maenpaa says it’s important to validate your friend’s emotions. “Right now they are feeling a jumble, likely ranging from fear, panic, and sadness to anger, resentment, and bitterness,” she continues. “They might blame themselves, their boss, the government, or any number of other factors that you might find unreasonable.”

As you listen to their complaints, it’s important to allow them to get everything out—and then reset. Remember, sometimes advice is not needed or necessary, but if it is specifically asked for, here are some ways you can support those you care about during this stressful time, depending on what’s happening in their lives:

 Your friend lost their job

Considering nearly seven million people filed for unemployment the last week in March, it’s likely you know at least one person who lost his or her job. If that happens to be one of your closest companions, Maenpaa recommends putting on a brave face and becoming their hype person. This means reminding them not to discount or doubt their skill or value—and to keep the global circumstances in perspective.

When they are ready, she suggests offering to look over their résumé and connecting them with people within your community who may help them. “While it’s true that some companies are laying employees off, others are doubling down on their investment in online platforms and digital offerings,” she continues. “Help your friend think about their existing skill set and where they can build more skills.”

It’s also important to shell out the compliments, since losing a job can be a hard blow to the ego, according to clinical psychologist and author Stephanie Newman, PhD. “Many of us derive esteem from work and professional accomplishments,” she says. “Being told we’ve been let go can make us feel like we’re failures or as though we’ve lost a crucial part of our identity.” During this period of transition, reflection (and perhaps, reinvention), help them build confidence by offering reassurance.  

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Your friend doesn’t have a financial safety net 

Though some people are lucky to have savings, many American households live paycheck to paycheck. If your friend is in this situation and they are anxious about financial burdens, offering to be a sounding board and a voice of reason could be welcomed, Maenpaa says. Often what’s more overwhelming than anything is thinking about what could happen and creating worst-case scenarios.

Rather than allowing your pal to dive into the deep end, suggest sitting down (virtually, of course) and going line-by-line through their expenses. What can they cut? Who can they call? If they are uncomfortable bargaining and you have a knack for it, Maenpaa says you might offering to call their landlord, student loan lender, or credit card company. Or, simply emailing them accurate information on unemployment 101 and stimulus check qualifications can be beneficial. 

And on a smaller scale, Maenpaa says offering up your Netflix log-in, your code for free delivery on groceries, and your free shipping referral link for necessities could brighten their spirits, too. “Whatever your friend’s comfort level with sharing their financial situation, you can remind them that no problem is insurmountable, from past due payments to debt to collections,” she adds.

Their business may go under

Unfortunately, many small businesses are facing the decision to file for bankruptcy or to furlough employees with the hope of coming back in the future. The most helpful way to be there for your friend in this situation is to walk through the options with them, and brainstorm creative ideas that could make a difference, says the assistant clinical director of Bridge Counseling Associates, Tabitha Johnson. “What part of their business can become virtual? Can they sell online or provide services via the internet? Can they partner with another business?” she suggests. “They can also contact local small business authorities, who may be able to provide guidance for any funding available.” 

When they are armed with information, they will be in a better position to make a calculated decision. If they must close down, offer to be there in any way they need—from helping with paperwork to proofreading copy for their website.

They can’t manage children and work

First and foremost, remind them there is no perfect situation right now. Maenpaa says encouraging them to give themselves a break can serve as a big relief. And, let them know it’s okay to loosen the normal household rules a little bit, by allowing kids to sleep in before starting school and giving them more screen time. If it makes things more manageable and keeps their kids occupied, it should be a win in their book. 

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While they may argue it’s impossible right now, self-care is more important than ever. As Johnson explains, if they don’t take care of themselves, they’ll always feel as if they are dropping the ball on other aspects of their life. After the kids have gone to sleep, she suggests journaling, taking a hot bath, or going for a walk outside (if it’s safe) to release tension. 

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