Helping Friends Cope with COVID-19: Tips to Lend a Virtual Hand

“It can be a small act that has a tremendous impact.”

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic, you and your friends probably had a number of ways of cheering each other up: going for a walk together, meeting for a drink, seeing a new movie, or just hanging out at each other’s homes. When it’s not safe to meet up with your friends, you may feel powerless to help them when they’re feeling down.

However, there are a number of ways you can show support at a safe distance. Technology has made it easier than ever to connect with your loved ones.

“You don’t have to wear a cape to be helping a friend,” says Susan Samuels, MD, psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine. “It can be a small act that has a tremendous impact.”

1. Help them filter the news

One common source of anxiety for a lot of people is the news. Hearing updates about case numbers or seeing disturbing images can really stir up panic, hopelessness, or depression.

“It might be helpful to help them figure out how to filter the news that they’re being exposed to, so it might mean a suggestion to turn the TV off for the day or the week,” says Dr. Samuels. “It might mean offering an article that they might find helpful, perhaps [one that is] a bit more positive.”

While the climbing death toll tends to get a lot of news coverage, it’s important to help your friend remember that the majority of the people with COVID-19 do recover, and sharing articles (or even social media posts) about those people could be uplifting and help counteract the more troubling news.

2. Share a soothing playlist

“Music can be really, really helpful in soothing anxious thoughts,” says Dr. Samuels.

Many studies have researched the effect of music on an individual’s anxiety levels. For example, a 2013 study from Drexel University found that music therapy reduced anxiety—as well as improving heart rate and blood pressure—for patients about to undergo an operation, which can improve surgery outcomes and recovery time.

In other words, even during times of high stress (nothing stirs up anxiety quite like surgery), music has been shown to calm the mind and body down. Software like Spotify makes building and sharing playlists with friends easier than ever before. Try happy songs, nostalgic songs, or relaxing songs—whatever you think would help your friend the most.

3. Become pen pals 

“Find time during the day to reach out to your friends and loved ones, and that might be an email or a text on some kind of regular basis, but it might even mean an old-school letter, pen to paper,” says Dr. Samuels. “It would serve as a reminder to your friend that they’re not alone.”

There is something about receiving a message out of the blue from a loved one that just makes you feel remembered, thought about, and cared about. Let’s be honest: Writing and mailing a letter tends to take more effort than sending a text, and that doesn’t usually go unnoticed by the recipient.

Finding ways to connect during social distancing can be challenging, but people may need that connection now more than ever. For more help helping a friend in distress during this time, here are tips for what to say with a loved one who is struggling.