How to be a Friend

How to be a Friend

Independence is as American as the bald eagle, the picket fence and those thingamajigs we use to pull up our bootstraps. Unfortunately, personal independence is at risk during a recession, when those bootstrap thingamabobs don't work so well. With savings melting along with the stock market and home values, most of us know (or are) people who are affected deeply by the economic meltdown. And with independence imbedded in the national psyche, personal financial predicaments can be accompanied by emotional crises. What kind of help can friends and family offer to those they love in these dire straits?

People are likely to feel tremendous pain and guilt over financial losses, says Allan Weisbard, an Ashland counselor. "We live in a culture where it's hard to feel stable. We all have the fear of loosing everything," he says. Admit your own fears and commiserate. Listening without judgment is a great way to start helping.

"Encourage your friend to vent and talk about what is happening," Weisbard says. They will probably have some shame over specific past mistakes, like a bad stock purchase. "Let them know those events can happen to anyone." Use active listening skills and acknowledge the pain, grief and anger that emerges. "They probably will have to experience the stages of grief, including bargaining," he says.

Weisbard cautions people with big hearts not to "take over" for people who need help, and don't offer more than you can reasonably support. Inviting them for dinner or movie is good; taking a gift basket of food to them with a message they are valued is a bit more delicate and sharing your already crowded home is probably unreasonable. Know the boundaries of what you can give, and what you can't.

Listening with compassion is in fact one of the best gifts, according to Kurt Katzmar, pastor at Medford Congregational United Church of Christ. "Listen and feel the feelings with them. That has tremendous spiritual power," he says. "Solving their problems is secondary."

People need to stay in touch with who they really are. "Your job, or your home or your bank account is not who you are," says Katzmar. An essential self lies beneath all the descriptions, and remaining in touch with it is the key to surviving a crisis.

For a friend in crisis you can suggest a call to Helpline, 779-4357. This volunteer-staffed 24-hour hotline is a "good place to start looking for community resources," says volunteer coordinator Renae DeSauteo. "We have one of the better lists of what resources are available." Helpline can help find services, like crisis care or emergency food, though they don't give direct aid, she says. Helpline also provides trained listeners for stressed out folks who "just want to talk about things."

Taking a walk or seeing a movie with your friends can help. Getting people out helps them create a new perspective, says Weisbard. Offer encouragement for them to find a couple things to be grateful for each day, a practice that can help manage depression. This is not the "silver lining" in their situation, but brief acknowledgements of small moments of contentment and pleasure: sunlight, a moment of intimacy or even a good cup of coffee. These are cues to establishing a positive framework for experience, according to Weisbard. Creating a good vibe might also require moderating news intake without putting your head in the sand.

"When we focus on the doom or gloom, then we actively release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. This keeps you from thinking of creative solutions or alternatives," he says.

Katzmar concurs, "If we [collectively] believe things are horrible, then they are. A lot of economic well-being is faith in credit. The numbers look bad, but they're not the real stuff of who you are."

Weisbard recommends the online booklet De-stress Kit for the Changing Times, published by the Institute of HeartMath®. It's free, short and offers exercises to reduce the grief, fear and anger that are likely during a financial setback of this magnitude. Find a link to it and other resources on his website:

Prayer or meditation is an option for some. It's not to ask for a job says Katzmar, "but to remain in touch with what is really important, in touch with that essential self." That's the place where we're all one people, he says. It's an independence of a different nature.

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