Supporting others

Show up and Support in Specific, Concrete Ways

5 minutes

When someone is going through a hard time, even the smallest acts of support can be significant. Learn about specific, concrete ways you can support others.

In a crisis, sometimes everything you can think of doing to help seems insignificant. That feeling often leads people to pull back and do nothing at all. But you don’t need to solve all of a person’s problems to make a difference. Doing something tangible and concrete, even if it feels small, matters.

When people describe what got them through hard times, they talk about friends and family showing up for them in simple ways. People texting “I’m thinking of you,” tidying their kitchen, meeting for pickup basketball, or coming by with brownies to binge-watch terrible sitcoms.

Research shows that even the smallest acts of support, like putting your hand on someone’s back during a stressful moment, can significantly reduce anxiety.1 In the face of hardship, just turning up is enough to make a difference.

  • Tip #1
    Offer something specific

    Would-be helpers often say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Even when that offer is genuinely meant, it can come across as just a generic polite thing people say. You can show your loved one you really want to help and free them from the burden of figuring out what they could reasonably ask of you by making specific offers.

  • How to do it

    Instead of asking “How can I help?” suggest ways you would like to help. For example:

    • “I’m doing a bunch of cooking this week. Could I drop off dinner on Monday or Tuesday?”
    • “Checking in on you. I’m going to the store today and can pick up anything you need and drop it off on your doorstep. Are there a few things I could buy you to ease the load?”
    • “When could I take your kids to the park to give you some quiet time alone?”
    • See here for a real-life text message example, presenting support options to a struggling friend
    Coordinating other people’s offers to help is another great way to help. You could schedule meal deliveries so people don’t get two weeks’ worth of dinners in a day or manage a calendar of people stopping by to drop off medications or help with chores. That way, your loved one only needs to manage one point of contact and you can make sure they end up with a reasonable balance of everything they need.

  • Tip #2
    Practice the Platinum Rule

    You’ve likely heard of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Although that advice is well-intentioned, it can lead to “help” that isn’t especially helpful.

    Extroverts might pop by for a chat—a form of support they would love to get but that might feel intrusive to someone who prefers planned visits. Action-oriented people might dive into solving a problem when their loved one really just wants space to talk about their feelings.

    To avoid those pitfalls, follow the Platinum Rule: “Treat others how they want to be treated.”

  • How to do it

    Because our brains take shortcuts to make sense of the world, we’re prone to something called the “false-consensus effect.” That’s the belief that other people share our preferences, desires, and attitudes. We need to watch out for that assumption. Otherwise, we run the risk of giving our friends the help we want, not the help they want.

    Fortunately, you don’t have to be a mind reader to follow the Platinum Rule. Just make an effort to see things from your loved one’s perspective. To do that, try asking yourself:

    • How do they express love and support to others?
    • How do they usually manage stress?
    • What has been helpful to them in the past?
    • What specific things have they described struggling with right now?
    Use the answers to identify ways to make your loved one feel truly supported. If you’re offering support to someone you don’t know especially well, try asking one of their close connections for suggestions.'

  • Tip #3
    Validate feelings

    Often, what people need most is to feel truly seen, heard, and understood. Getting that need met can be hard because being in the presence of powerful emotions makes so many people uncomfortable. So they change the subject or shut down discussion of feelings by saying things like “It could be worse” or “Best not to think about it.”

    That leaves people feeling misunderstood and alone. You can make a huge difference by showing your loved one their feelings are welcome and important.

  • How to do it

    Letting someone know you’re open to hearing about the difficult, messy parts of their experience can be as simple as saying, “I really want to understand what you’re going through” or “That sounds so hard. I wonder how you’re feeling about it.”

    As they share their experience, focus on being fully present and really listening to what they have to say. Resist the impulse to give advice, jump into problem-solving mode, or share a story of someone who faced something even harder.

    Instead, show you understand the depth of their emotions by reflecting what you hear. You might say something like:

    • “It sounds like you’re really heartbroken by what happened.”
    • “That seems really overwhelming.”
    • “You’re in such a tough spot. It makes sense that you’re (angry, hurt, scared).”
    • “Of course you’re feeling exhausted and unfocused! Anyone in your shoes would be.”
    This simple approach of reflecting and validating feelings can help your loved one feel truly connected and accepted.

Helping your friends and family navigate hardship doesn’t require a huge investment of time or money. You don’t need magic words that make everything better. You just need to do something to show you care. If you don’t get it quite right the first time, that’s okay. Shift your approach and keep turning up so your loved one knows they’re not alone.

Other Lessons


  1. Jessica P. Lougheed, Peter Koval, and Tom Hollenstein, “Sharing the Burden: The Interpersonal Regulation of Emotional Arousal in Mother-Daughter Dyads,” Emotion 16, no. 1 (January 2016): 83–93.