How can you support a neighbor, friend or loved one who is struggling with
health problems? We’re diving into that question as we continue our week-
long series, Step into My Shoes. Today, an insider’s view of what it’s like to
live with difficult health problems.
Tips to Increase Your Sensitivity to Loved Ones Facing Health Problems:
1. Stay in the present tense with your questions.
a. Avoid asking questions like, “Are you going to die?” “Who will raise your
kids?” “Would you be okay if your spouse remarried?”
2. Be supportive and engaged in their treatment. Offer advice or
suggestions only when asked.
a. Avoid problem solving or offering unsolicited advice. Examples: “Try
this new diet.” “You should drink this certain kind of water.” “You need to
go to see this alternative healer.” Those comments, although well intended,
can add to your loved one’s feelings of being overwhelmed and confused in
an already difficult situation.
3. Random acts of kindness matter most.
a. Avoid insincere offerings of “Let me know if I can help” or “Let me know
if you need anything.” How many people are really going to call and say,
“Can you come over and do my laundry?” Be attentive and mindful of the
needs of your loved one, and then quietly ACT! Find small ways to be
helpful. Go over and walk their dog, shovel their sidewalk, show up to take
their kids for a play date, etc.
4. Never under estimate the power of empathetic listening.
a. Avoid invalidating statements such as, “It will be OK”, “Everything will
work out”, or “Don’t worry about it.” Again, avoid problem -solving the
situation by saying “What you need to do is…” Most people just want to be
listened to, heard, and validated. Use empathetic, feeling words as you
acknowledge your loved one’s emotions.
5. Remember, everyone’s experience with health problems is unique
a. Avoid over-relating by saying things like, “I know exactly how you feel”,
or “I went through the exact same thing.” Honor your loved one’s unique
experience. Use empathetic listening and stayed engaged in your loved
one’s individual journey.
For more information about Anything for a Friend, visit
Nikki Preece is a social worker and clinical director at Alpine Academy.