Sometimes an emotional breakdown develops quietly. Over time, you notice that your friend is withdrawing and has lost the light in their eyes. They don’t look well and seem to be struggling in silence. Or, you may watch someone unexpectedly lose control of their emotions. No matter how it looks, you can help. Here are some ways to be a reliable source of support for someone during an emotional breakdown.
Reach out when you see they need help
When you notice someone overwhelmed with emotion, reach out. You don’t have to know how to solve their problem; you only need to show you care. The other person might turn down your help or say they’re fine. Many people don’t ask for support because they don’t want to be a bother to others. But when you can see that someone looks unwell or can’t control their emotions, offer your help anyway.
Move to a quiet, private location
Being emotional in front of others can make a person self-conscious. This can make it harder to cope with escalated emotions. If you see someone breaking down in a group of people, get them to a quiet location with some privacy. They may feel embarrassed or ashamed of losing control in front of others. Give them space if they want it, even from you. Do what you can to protect their privacy until they feel ready to step out again.
Invite them to talk or communicate in some way
When you have some time and privacy, ask them to share what’s causing them to feel so overwhelmed. Complex emotions can be difficult to put into words, and it’s OK if there’s silence for a while. Reassure them that you only want to help, and they don’t have to talk unless they are ready.
Listen and give support
When they are ready to talk, be a supportive listener. Listen closely and repeat the key points they talk about. It takes a lot of courage to open up to someone, especially when they may feel lost or out of control. Help them know you’re engaged, and they can trust you.
Stay as calm as possible
Make a point to stay as calm as possible. This may not be easy, especially if you’re closely aware of what’s upsetting the other person. But they’ll respond better if you can remain steady and relaxed. You can be an anchor for them as they try to cope. Speak and move slowly to create a relaxed atmosphere.
What to say or not to say
When you’re trying hard to comfort someone, be intentional about what you say. It’s too easy to stumble over words you think are comforting but are actually insensitive. Here are a few common phrases to avoid and the reasons why.
- “It’s all going to be fine; you’ll see.”
- Avoid predictions like this. Things might not be fine.
- “You’ll get over it soon and get back to normal.”
- This minimizes their current experience instead of validating it.
- “Why didn’t you ask/say something to me earlier?”
- Many people are ashamed of being emotionally vulnerable and often hesitate to reach out, even when they know others care about them. This comment may add shame or guilt about that hesitation.
When in doubt, keep your comments simple and focused on the following ideas:
- “It’s OK to be emotional right now.”
- “I’m here for you, no judgment.”
- “Do you feel like talking about it?”
- “I’m not always sure what to say or do, but I’m here to support you however I can.”
Whether a person is overcome with emotion or in a slow burn of emotional struggle, encourage the person to do self-care activities. Follow up with them to see how they’re doing with sleep, eating, and managing stress. Invite them to go on a walk or to enjoy an uplifting activity with you. If you notice they aren’t always taking care of basic hygiene or their eating habits have changed a lot, they may need support for a more significant mental health issue.
Talk about professional support (doctor, counselor)
As a friend or family member, there’s only so much you can do to support someone going through an emotional breakdown. They may need to speak to a doctor or counselor. Ask if they have reached out to a professional yet, and strongly recommend this if their moods or behaviors concern you.
Support during an emotional breakdown
It’s hard to watch someone you care about feeling hurt. You can do a lot to support them, but it’s not your job to fix what’s wrong. Be genuine, caring, and present when they need you. That can be enough.
New Dimensions Can Help!
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.
New Dimensions services:
Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more.