how to support others when you're struggling yourself

How to Support Others When You’re Struggling Yourself

As you’ve likely gathered by now, this blog dives deeper than most about the daily lives of HR Business Partners and Generalists. We have stressful, tough jobs that require us to be happy and shiny and approachable pretty much all the time. And we’re frequently one of the last groups to get “support” of any kind whether it’s related to mental health or career.

Today I wanted to talk about something that I’ve struggled with several times and what I’m sure my HR colleagues struggle with time and time again.

Leaders frequently call upon HR to come in and “help” their employees deal with their issues both at work and personal stuff that spills over into work. Whether that’s by referring them to the employee assistance program, or through gentle counseling and coaching from the HRBP. But who looks after HR folks when they are struggling with personal issues? How many companies have an HR for HR that truly looks after them?

The truth is, not many.

So, we’re left to our own devices. How exactly do you push yourself out of the funk, especially when you’re down in the dumps and then have to talk a manager or employee off the ledge? How do you give yourself to others when you don’t have much to give? There’s no doubt, it’s a tough spot to be in.

Over the years, I’ve come up with some coping mechanisms to help me embrace the funk without projecting on to my clients. These are not scientific methods in any way, and they may not work for everyone. But I’ve used these several times in the past and they’ve helped compartmentalize my personal feelings from what’s required on the job.

Count down from 5 to 1

5..4..3..2..1..deep breath. That’s literally the thing I do before jumping into what I know will be a difficult or draining conversation. This is a take on Mel Robbins’ trick to get yourself to do something you don’t want to do. Whether you’ve just got off the phone after a fight with your significant other or a difficult conversation with your child’s teacher, or you’ve just had a blowout with your mom (been there for all of these things), counting down and taking a deep breath works miracles when you’re trying to clear the previous conversation and get ready for the next.

Set the intention

I’m not into mediation or any of that mindfulness stuff, but when I discovered the concept of setting intentions, my life changed. I set intentions for almost everything I do now, whether that’s starting a difficult task, getting over my procrastination, or switching gears from personal to professional or vice versa. The concept is simple (and my method may not be the conventional method): before beginning a task, you say “I will worry about my problems in exactly one hour. For the next hour, I will focus solely on Sally’s problem and I will give her my full attention.” Then you smile and dial Sally’s number, or walk over to her office. It’s nothing complicated, but the simple sentence somehow puts you in the right frame of mind. This also works when you get home from a difficult day at work and need to focus on your spouse or kids.


Now, I know this one is weird. And unexpected, considering you’re reading this because you wanted tips on dealing with helping others. The truth is, the best way to stop the overlap or switching gears, is to avoid getting into the situation in the first place. So, where you can avoid the call from school for the moment, do so. If you can put off your mother until the evening, then do that. Or at the very least, don’t get into the conversation right before a critical meeting with a client. Avoidance is not the easiest option, but sometimes it’s the only option to stay focused at work.

Find a venting buddy

Let’s face it, as much as we should be the upholders of the “no venting” philosophy, blowing off steam after a tough conversation does wonder to your brain. Again, this is by no means scientific. I have no idea whether it actually does anything for your brain, but it works for me. Find a trusted friend at work (or outside of it) to quickly brain dump the previous conversation. Keep it to no more than 5 minutes and then move on. Honestly, talking about the issue for even five minutes, really eases the stress and pressure, allowing you the space to take on the next challenge.

Be Honest

I’m a big believer in authenticity. Your clients want to know that you’re human. It’s one of the reasons I allow myself to curse and am 100% myself in front of my clients. Sometimes telling your clients that you’re not in a good head space gives them the opportunity to rethink how they frame their problems. This is especially useful for chronic complainers. You know the ones: they always have something negative to say about the company (or their boss or their team or their work) and really suck the life out of you. Saying something like “I just had a really trying conversation with my husband and I’d really love to talk about something happy. Tell me something good that happened to you today.” This can potentially change the tone of the conversation and avoid a diatribe in its tracks.

These are just a few ways I reframe myself when I have to be there for my clients during a difficult time or when I have to have a tough conversation. I’d love to hear what tactics you use to motivate and support your clients when you’re not feeling it yourself. Leave a comment below and let us know.

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