15 phrases to say to someone going through a tough time, according to psychology

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What should you say to somebody who’s struggling?

It’s a situation almost all of us will face at some point in life, and it can be full of pressure and confusion. 

We worry that we might say the wrong thing or make somebody feel even worse.

Here’s what to say to somebody who’s going through a rough period in their life. 

1) “I’m here for you.”

This simple statement of solidarity goes a long way. 

When folks are going through a hard time they often feel completely alone and like nobody gets it. 

Letting them know you’re here for them is a powerful way to say you care

2) “Can you tell me more about what’s going on?”

It’s not always easy to know what’s bothering somebody. 

It can help to give them the opportunity to share, so that your advice or support can be of more value. Rather than assuming you know what’s bothering them, take a chance and ask. 

“The recognition that a loved one might need help can be daunting, and even scary,” observes counselor Shainna Ali Ph.D.

“It is important to be calm in the process to not jump to conclusions.”

3) “It’s OK to ask for help.” 

When a person is struggling they tend to feel vulnerable and scared. 

Whether it’s a personal setback, mental health struggles or a situation in life that they just don’t know how to deal with, letting them know it’s not shameful is very helpful. 

They aren’t weak and you don’t look down on them. Asking for help is strong, not weak. 

4) “I hear exactly what you’re saying.” 

Sometimes letting a person know that they’re heard is one of the absolute best things you can do for them. 

By actively listening to what they say and hearing their unmet needs, you can be there for them in a real way that will actually help. 

“By practicing active listening and sharing, we build stronger connections and trust, and the other person feels more supported in their struggles,” notes Tchiki Davis, Ph.D.

5) “You’re not alone. We’ll get through this together.”

This is another way to let the struggling individual know that you’re there for them. 

Even if you don’t yet know exactly what they’re going through, you’re not going to bail out. 

You’re standing by their side through this hard time. 

6) “It’s okay not to be okay.”

This is another way to let a person know that struggling is not shameful. 

The fact they are going through a hard time is part of life and it doesn’t make them weak to admit that they’re not OK. 

In fact, facing things head-on makes them brave. 

7) “How are you really doing?”

Imagine if we all asked this and really wanted to know, with no exceptions?

There would be a lot longer interactions than just pleasantries, and things could get pretty awkward, too. 

But when you know somebody is struggling, this can be just the right thing to ask so that you let them know that they can be honest with you. They don’t have to pretend to be fine just to adhere to some kind of social code.

As licensed psychologist Seth Meyers Psy.D. writes:

“If someone in your life is struggling, check in with them in person or call them on the phone and ask, ‘How are you really doing? Are you doing okay?’

“Often, someone struggling needs to be reassured that they won’t burden anyone by sharing what’s really going on with them.” 

8) “This is what worked for me…”

Sharing what worked for you is a thoughtful thing to do, if you do so in the right way. 

You aren’t claiming to know what they’re going through or even guarantee any solution:

You’re simply telling the story of your own journey through something similar or at least another difficult time that you navigated in your life. 

9) “Is there anything on your daily to-do list you could turn over to me, so you have one less thing to do?”

When a person is struggling with setbacks, tragedies or personal problems, it isn’t always possible to help them “feel better.”

But it is possible to let them know you’re there for them and to take some of the tasks off their plate so they can have a bit more of a rest. 

By asking about practical things you can do for somebody who’s struggling, you provide them a real-world favor that can truly help them get a bit more breathing room. 

As Meyers puts it:

“If you’re wondering how effective this technique can be, ask yourself how good it would feel when you’re struggling if the people in your life came to you and asked you the same question.”

10) “Let’s take it one step at a time.” 

Personal struggles can be overwhelming. 

By letting this person know that it’s OK to take things slow and one step at a time, you help them feel a tiny bit less overwhelmed. 

Sometimes just getting through the next 24 hours is the priority and they need to know practical steps to take to deal with their situation. 

This assures the person that they will be OK and you will move one step at a time. 

11) “How can I support you?”

This is along similar lines to the previous point about offering practical support

However in this case you’re offering support of any kind, including emotional support or advice. 

In some cases the person may just ask to be left alone, which is something that should also be respected. 

The key is to ask. 

“As a therapist, I help patients assert their requests for emotional support to friends and family members,” shares clinical psychologist Kathryn Gordon, Ph.D.

“You can’t be expected to mindread and know what will comfort every person in every situation.”

12) “Do you feel like you might hurt yourself?”

One situation where it’s not OK to leave somebody alone (even if they ask) is when a person expresses suicidal thoughts or plans. 

In this case it’s just not worth the risk. 

Suicidal possibility needs to be taken very seriously, and a person who’s threatening to harm themselves needs to be treated as a medical emergency. 

“No emotional crisis is more urgent than suicidal thoughts and behavior, or threats to harm someone else,” note Jacqueline Gray, Ph.D., and Lynn Bufka, Ph.D.

“If you suspect a loved one is considering self-harm or suicide, don’t wait to intervene…

If he or she will not seek help or call 911, eliminate access to firearms or other potential tools for harm to self or others, including unsupervised access to medications.”

13) “You’re stronger than you know.” 

Reminding somebody of how strong they are is very helpful. 

They know that you believe in them, while also calling to mind images and memories of their own wins and triumphs. 

They start refocusing their mindset on more positive things and seeing themselves in a better light. 

On a related note: 

14) “I’ve seen you get through extremely challenging times in the past, I believe in you.”

When a person is struggling a lot they often begin to doubt themselves. 

As a person offering support, one of the best things you can do is assure them that they will get through this. 

Remind them of times in the past when things turned out well despite how bad they looked. Remind them of their own strength. 

As Gordon advises:

“Reassure them, realistically. Statements like ‘Everything will be fine,’ ‘It could be worse,’ or ‘You just need to stop thinking that way,’ often lead people to feel ashamed for expressing pain, and rarely set them on a better path.”

15) “It’s okay to pause and focus on self-care.” 

There’s nothing shameful or weak about looking after oneself. 

Reminding someone of this can help them focus on themselves and stop feeling guilty or under a lot of pressure to “snap out of it” or start being their normal, cheery self. 

You’re reminding them that they can focus on self-care and on their own needs for a while. 

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