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Mental Health

How to Comfort an Upset Friend Over the Phone

We’ve all had moments in our lives that have brought us to tears. Whether it’s something as manageable as a bad grade, or something that’s a bit more earth-shattering, we’ve all been in a position where the person you wanted to talk to just wasn’t there and you had to call them immediately. But what’s it like to be on the other end of that conversation? One of the scariest calls you can get is when your friend calls you while they’re in tears. You don’t know what’s going on and you don’t know if they’re okay. But there are a few things you can do to try to comfort them and show that you care.

1. Breathe

When somebody is crying, it can be difficult to understand them. Couple that with bad cell reception and they’re practically unintelligible. So, before they start telling you why they’re upset, walk them through a breathing exercise or two. Whatever helps. Not only will it give them a moment to regain their composure, but it’ll give you the opportunity to find a quiet spot to take their call privately and so you can calm yourself enough to assess the situation.

 2. “Are you okay?”

Over time, I’ve learned that the phrasing of this question can be important. I always start the conversation by asking in a calm voice “what’s happening?” or “are you okay? what’s going on?” This gives me the chance to figure out if they’re in immediate danger or if it’s something that we can talk through. You want them to be in a safe and comfortable place, even if that means you have to go and pick them up.

3. Just listen

They’re not calling you to see how your day is – they’re calling because they need a friend and somebody who will listen to their problems. It’s your job to just be quiet and genuinely listen to what’s going on in their life. While they’re talking, they might get caught up in their emotions and start to cry again. It’s okay, but just remind them to breathe. Interrupt them to remind them if needed, because it’s important that you hear as much of the story as possible. They may talk for a while, and that’s okay too, as long as they’re not hurting themselves or anything around them. Give them the chance to work through their feelings. 

4. Be honest

When your time to respond comes you should be honest, but not brutal. Ask questions for clarification if you must, but tell them what you think. And don’t be afraid to acknowledge how bad the situation might be. Tell them that while it may suck now, it’s going to be okay. You can’t solve every problem, but you can be there for them. It’s also at this point you should correct any negative statement they might have said about themselves. If at any moment while they were talking they said something like “I’m so stupid” or “I’m worthless,” make it your first point to remind them that they’re not stupid and they’re not worthless. Nobody is.

Don’t trivialize their problems and don’t condescend. Only end the call when you know they’re ready and do your best to follow up, even if it’s just a short text a few hours later. But the most important thing you can do is just be there for them. Even if it’s just providing a calm presence over the phone, you’re making a change for the better.

Jane Eckles

Carthage '19

Jane graduated from Carthage College in May 2019 with a degree in English and Secondary Education. She is from Merced, California, which is close enough to San Fransisco for her to confirm that the City by the Bay is her absolute favorite. When she's not teaching or writing articles, she can be found collecting any book she can get her hands on, watching Netflix, staring mindlessly into the void, or napping.
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