You’re settling in for the night — rewatching Pokémon: Indigo League on Netflix — and your phone starts buzzing. And buzzing. And buzzing. When your bestie is panicking about their girlfriend ghosting them or having a meltdown about work, it helps to have a few strategies in your repertoire for how to calm someone down over text.
What Texts To Avoid Sending When Your Friend Is Panicking
First things first: you’ll want to avoid jumping right in trying to “fix” everything and accidentally wind up making things so much worse. “People may assume what their loved one in distress needs and this can lead to frustration for both parties involved,” says psychotherapist Lillyana Morales, L.M.H.C. “If you’re someone who is a problem-solver and you’re immediately trying to solve issues for a loved one who just needs to cry and sit in their feelings, it can lead them to potentially feel bad that they aren’t able to hear you while creating a sense of helplessness for you.” In other words, ask if your friend just needs to have a good sob instead of immediately trying to help them fix the Zoom interview they totally bombed.
Statements like “I don’t think it’s that bad” or “It’s all in your head” can also be accidentally invalidating and even hurtful, says Sarah Rice, MHC-I at NYU. She explains that when you imply that someone is overreacting — aka, “everyone accidentally hits ‘reply all’ sometimes, it’s nothing to worry about” — they can feel dismissed rather than supported.
Alexa Shank, MS, LPC, CEDS, a psychotherapist and owner of Relief & Recovery Psychotherapy, previously told Bustle that keeping any judgments to yourself is key when your friend is freaking out. “Checking in and offering non-judgment and concern can feel extremely validating and reassuring to those who might feel alone,” she explains. So you probably won’t want to choose now to tell them that they’re having an awfully big reaction to what seems on the outside to be a small thing.
How To Calm Someone Down Over Text
When a loved one is freaking out over text, Rice says you’ll want to “validate and provide them with options to self-soothe.” Sounds simple enough — until they’re actually text-crying and your mind suddenly goes blank. Keep these tips in mind for those moments.
While you don’t want to put words in your friend’s mouth, you do to let them know that they’re being heard. “Reflect back to them what they are saying, specifically the emotion,” Rice says. Sometimes, people will text-rant at you about what is going on without actually using their feelings-words. When you say things like, “It seems like what you are experiencing is really difficult and frustrating,” Rice explains, you’ll be showing your friend that you empathize and also validate that they’re allowed to feel their feelings.
Before diving in with suggestions, make sure you’re asking questions about what your person needs. “Asking for permission and checking in are especially important,” Morales says. Especially when what they’re going through is particularly heavy, you’ll want to keep trauma in mind when you’re comforting them. “Trauma survivors may have had experiences happen to them versus having the choice and power to ask for what they need, protect, or advocate for themselves,” she says. So, instead of giving advice first and asking questions later, check in first — “how would you like me to support you in this moment?” can help a lot more than “I think you should do x, y, and z.”
You don’t have to have all the answers to help someone calm down over text (or IRL). You can simply offer options, often based in the person’s own experience. “Are there certain tools or resources that have helped you move through discomfort before?” Morales suggests asking. If you know that their seal plushie always helps them feel better, you might want to get more specific — “can you go grab Seal?”
Remember that you don’t necessarily want to offer options that work for you — because what helps you might not help them. “Different things work for different people and you don’t want to come off as dismissive,” Rice says. “Framing the options as questions can help. For example, ‘Do you think it would help to calm some of your racing thoughts with deep breathing? Or a cold shower?’ Your job is to plant the seeds,” Rice explains. “It’s up to them to let those seeds grow.”
As always, make sure you’re taking care of yourself while caring for your loved ones. “Remember that you cannot pour from an empty cup,” Morales says. “Reflect on who is in your life, and what you can give that does not compromise your own wellness.” The more you show up for yourself, she explains, the better you can show up for the people you love most.
Lillyana Morales, L.M.H.C., psychotherapist
Sarah Rice, MHC-I, NYU