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How to Support Someone Who Is Stressed

Psychologist Oleg Smagin on communication rules with people you want to support. Exclusively for the Anywhere Club blog.

Oleg Smagin

An adult's position

If a person gets in an emergency, his psyche automatically drops to the level of pubertal (adolescent) crisis. In this case, the person tends to calm down when they submit a strong personality or such image within an atmosphere of discipline and subordination.

As in adolescence, the probability of violent outbursts of destructive or chaotic and foolish behavior, confusion of speech, and asocial or rebellious behavior increases. A person creates an image of the "enemy" and an image of the "magical helper." People begin to be conventionally divided into insiders and outsiders, with insiders being those with whom they share a common outlook, reaction, and feelings.

Taking this into account, it is necessary to communicate with the person under stress and in post-stress conditions from the position of the adult: understand, accept their reactions, and be capable of handling the circumstances.

General rules for the conversation

  • At the beginning of the talk, introduce yourself and outline your options for helping the person you are talking to.
  • Avoid the particle "not" and replace it with words close in meaning: for example, instead of "We cannot allow it," — "We should do this and that." In a state of affect, the brain does not comprehend negativity well and often does not understand it.
  • Demonstrate calm confidence and do not respond to aggression.
  • The conversation should move smoothly from the emotions and feelings of the speaker to their thoughts and motor processes. Ask them simple questions that require mental effort (but not overwhelm): "Are you hungry?", "When did you eat the last time?", "What food do you have?", "Is it fresh? When did you buy it?"
  • Express confidence that their previous condition will be restored and that their normal psychological state and life will return soon.
  • Emphasize in every way that you are on their side, and you always will be. A stressful situation is not the time to clarify positions.
  • Emphasize the value, specialness, and uniqueness of your interlocutor. The person needs to know that they are important and valuable.
  • Involve them in joint activities. When a person is feeling unwell, the best medicine is to give some help to someone who needs it.
  • Listen carefully without interrupting. Very often, the person needs to speak out to start recovery processes.
  • The goal of communication should be to bring the person into an environment where they will have rest, water, food, and a safe place where they are heard.

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