Taking care of yourself when others are down

By George, 23 - 16 Sep 2015

Helping others through tough times is something that comes naturally to people; we want to support our mates, besties or bros through everything. But it's easy to get so consumed by someone else’s problems that you forget to take care of yourself.

There are a number of ways that you can take some time out or focus on yourself. The Air New Zealand Men in Black Safety Defenders video has a pretty cool way of explaining this. The video shows oxygen masks falling down mid-flight and the lyrics are “air still flows no bag inflation, fit your mask before your mate's one,” showing that before you can help your mate, it's important to look after yourself.

As a high school counsellor, people come into my office concerned, worried or afraid for a friend, bro, bestie or family member. Once I have made sure the person is safe, my next question is, and "how are you doing at the moment?" If you're feeling like you're not on top of things and others are pulling you down, here are some effective ways to address it:

Tell someone else

  • Tell someone that you trust about what is troubling you. A school counsellor is a good start, or a parent or responsible adult who you trust. Sometimes people feel worried about sharing information about their friends with adults but it's really important that you don't try and cope with this alone. Sharing with a responsible adult is one of the ways that you can support your friend well.
  • Tell yourself that it is okay to take the first step to protect yourself and your wellbeing - it takes courage to do this.
  • Take some time out and do something fun that you enjoy: sports, movies, playing music, talking with mates, whatever goes, as long as you are enjoying yourself.

Put in some clear boundaries

  • With the friend or family member, be clear around what you can be helpful with by saying something like “I'd love to go down to the park to play some soccer with you, but as soon as you start talking about Ethan, you need to talk to the counsellor about that.” This takes you out of the problem.
  • It takes bravery to stand up like this, and you are actually helping by putting boundaries around your friendship and showing how you are able to support this person.

Learn to say no

  • It's so easy to get consumed by everything that people are going through when it's all around us on social media. However, by setting firm boundaries you've made it easier to say no if other people’s problems are getting you down. If you notice signs like thinking or worrying about this too much or feeling stressed whenever you are around them, that's a good sign that it's time to draw a line.

Be proud of yourself

  • Identify what you really enjoy and be proud that you are helping protect your own wellbeing and set up some support to help your friend or family member through their rough patch.

It has taken a while for me as a counsellor to learn these. Day to day I hear all sorts of stuff, and sometimes you do need to take some time for yourself. For me I like to go out on a bike ride in the Port Hills or go out for coffee with a friend. When you have been supporting a friend, you need to take care of yourself first.

George, 23

For more ideas and links to helpful info check out our More Good Stuff page.