We all know someone who seems to have it all together, don’t we? But sometimes, looks can be deceiving.
I had a close friend who seemed perfectly fine on the surface but was secretly struggling.
Luckily, I caught on to some subtle signs and reached out just in time to help.
It made me realize that often, people don’t openly share their battles. They suffer in silence, hoping someone notices.
I want to share what I learned with you. By recognizing these 7 often overlooked behaviors, you might just be the lifeline someone desperately needs.
1) Inconsistent communication
Inconsistent communication is one of those signs that’s easy to brush off. We all get busy, right?
That’s what I thought when my friend would suddenly go quiet, not responding to messages for a couple days when she used to be quite quick to reply.
I assumed she was just swamped with work or life. And then, she’d reappear, acting like everything was fine.
But the inconsistency bothered me. Sure, people get busy, but the fluctuating pattern of communication made me wonder if something deeper was going on. And it was.
My friend was isolating herself during her lowest moments, retreating from the world because she didn’t know how else to cope.
If you notice a friend or loved one swinging between being overly communicative and then going radio silent, don’t ignore it. It could be a sign that they’re going through a difficult time but don’t know how to express it.
Reaching out to check in during those silent periods could make all the difference.
2) Withdrawal from social activities
My friend was never a party animal, or out every weekend, but she did enjoy going to social events and meeting up with her friends on a regular basis.
That’s why it was so jarring when she started turning down invitations or bowing out of events she’d normally love.
At first, I thought she might just be going through a busy phase. But as the weeks turned into months, it became apparent that her withdrawal was more than just a packed schedule.
She was struggling with something emotionally taxing that made social interactions feel like a burden.
Pulling away from social activities may not seem like a big deal on its own. Maybe a person is just reorganizing their priorities, or focusing all their attention on a particular goal.
But when it’s coupled with the other signs in this list, it’s often a cry for help. A simple “Hey, is everything okay? I’ve missed seeing you around” can open the door for them to share what they’re going through.
3) Emotional volatility
Emotional volatility can be tough to navigate, especially when it comes out of nowhere.
This isn’t something I particularly noticed about my friend, but I can say from firsthand experience that I was definitely affected by this during my own tough times.
Even when I wanted to act like everything was okay, or I was having a good day, the tiniest thing could set me off or launch me back into my anxious thoughts and worries.
I even got frustrated or upset over things that would have never bothered me before.
Obviously, being irritable is something we all go through — it’s a natural response to stress or a bad day. But does it become a pattern?
If yes, that’s a sign that it’s masking some deep internal turmoil. In my case, I was grappling with issues that I couldn’t discuss openly, and my emotions were like a roller coaster because of it.
Ultimately, what helped me was having a safe space to talk with someone who I knew wouldn’t judge me — a therapist.
Whether you seek a professional or a trusted friend, it’s important to be able to process your feelings and let them out.
4) Decreased performance at work or school
Work or school performance can be like a mirror, reflecting what’s happening in our inner lives.
I didn’t work with my friend firsthand, but a mutual friend who did raised some concerns when I spoke to her.
This friend who was going through a hard time was usually very punctual and on top of her tasks. But then, she started slipping: missed deadlines, lackluster performance, and a disinterest in projects she once loved.
It wasn’t enough to make her lose her job, but it was clear that her motivation and attention just wasn’t where it used to.
And not long after that, she quit her job herself.
It’s debatable whether or not that was good for her — on one hand, she could take some time off to unwind from all the pressure and give her full attention to solving the issues she was dealing with.
On the other hand, it can launch a person even further into withdrawal and isolation.
If you notice a distinct and ongoing drop in someone’s performance at work or school, don’t overlook it — see if you can reach out to help before it develops into something worse.
5) Decline in personal hygiene
We often think of self-care as a luxury, but in reality, basic personal hygiene is one of the first lines of defense in maintaining our mental well-being.
So when I saw my usually well-groomed friend neglecting her appearance — skipping makeup, wearing the same clothes multiple days, or even looking a little bit disheveled — it was more than unsettling.
It might be easy to pass such changes off as someone “just not caring about looks anymore,” but that’s rarely the full story.
For my friend, the decline in personal care was a visible sign of an invisible struggle she was facing.
While it’s a sensitive topic to address, your concern could be the wake-up call they need to start taking steps toward improving their emotional health.
Make sure you approach them with love rather than criticism, and find a gentle way to express your worry.
6) Loss of interest in hobbies
Hobbies are like small sanctuaries, places where we escape to find joy and recharge our souls.
When I saw my friend abandon the activities she once loved — setting aside her paintbrushes, ignoring her favorite books, or skipping weekend hikes — it was like watching a part of her dim.
She would say she’s “just not into it anymore,” but I knew her well enough to sense that her passion hadn’t faded naturally.
Instead, it seemed as though she was losing her anchors, the very things that helped her maintain her emotional equilibrium.
From personal experience, I know I used to feel very uninspired to do things I loved when I was overwhelmed by very difficult emotions.
And of course, our tastes can change, and we may realize we don’t want to invest time into something anymore even without going through something difficult — but it’s important to realize that the reason could also be psychological distress.
If you’d like to help, you could invite them out to try enjoying the hobby together, or suggest something new they could try together with you.
Sometimes it’s easier to reconnect with a familiar and beloved activity rather than to start talking about something difficult right away.
7) Overuse of coping mechanisms
Coping mechanisms are like double-edged swords. They can offer temporary relief, but when relied upon too much, they can mask the real issues that need addressing.
I saw this with my friend, who started spending hours lost in binge-watching TV shows, sometimes while drinking. She did like a good Netflix spree even before, but now it became her main pastime.
When I gently asked her about it, she shrugged it off, saying she “just needed to unwind.” But consistently leaning on these crutches indicated that she was trying to numb something much deeper that she wasn’t talking about.
Other manifestations of this behavior could be excessive eating, obsessive exercise, or basically doing anything in excess.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the pleasures of life, but if you get lost in them, it becomes very difficult to actually face things that need to be dealt with.
It’s time to be the lifeline someone needs
Life isn’t always as it appears on the surface, and the people we care about may be carrying burdens heavier than we can imagine.
If you notice these signs in someone you love, remember that your role isn’t to be a therapist or have all the answers.
Your role is to be a friend, a confidant, someone who sees them and acknowledges their struggle when they might feel invisible.
Reach out, even if it feels a bit awkward. Offer to spend time together doing something low-key.
Listen without judgment, and encourage them to seek professional help if the signs you’re seeing are worrying.
You may not be able to pull them out of their struggle, but you can stand beside them, offering your support as they navigate through it.
Sometimes, simply knowing someone cares can be a powerful catalyst for someone to take that first brave step toward getting the help they need. Let’s be that someone for the people in our lives who are silently struggling.