You’re settling in for the night to rewatch Squid Game on Netflix for the third time, and your phone starts buzzing. And buzzing. And buzzing. Your bestie is panicking about their girlfriend ghosting them or having a meltdown about work, and you wish you knew the best ways to calm someone down over text.
If you’re looking for an immediate tactic to calm somebody down, Kate Rosenblatt LPC LMHC, a therapist with mental health platform Talkspace, tells Bustle that putting yourself in their shoes is a good strategy every time. “Express empathy by validating their feelings,” she says. “You can do this by sharing how sorry you are that they’re feeling this way.” It also gives you a moment to collect your thoughts and figure out if your BFF needs support, a listening ear, or someone to plot a revenge plan with.
Here are some tips on calming a friend down over text.
Give Them Space To Chill Out
Therapist Heidi McBain, LMFT, LPC, tells Bustle it’s a good idea to give them time to cool off — but resist the urge to actually say “Calm down.” “This usually leads to elevated emotions, the opposite of what you’re wanting,” she says. (We’ve all said “I AM CALM” when somebody tried it in the past.) Instead, you can suggest they get a glass of water or take a quick walk around the block to calm down, physically.
Stay Away From Minimizing Statements
Statements like “I don’t think it’s that bad” or “It’s all in your head” can be accidentally invalidating or even hurtful, Sarah Rice, MHC-I at NYU, tells Bustle. 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.
This includes scripts like, “Everything will be OK” or “You shouldn’t worry about that,” Liz Kelly, LICSW, a therapist with Talkspace, tells Bustle. Even if they’re meant to comfort, she says, these sentences can accidentally shame your friend and minimize their concerns.
Instead, Rice recommends validating their feelings — phrases like, “That sounds so stressful” can show your friend that you see why they’re upset.
Avoid Instant-Fix Suggestions
You’ll want to avoid jumping right in trying to “fix” everything. “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.” Instead of jumping in with how you settled that issue with your boss last year, try open-ended questions like, “What could it look like to solve this problem?” or, “What’s your ideal outcome from this situation?” Chances are, your friend knows best what’ll help get them out of this particular jam.
Keep Things Nonjudgmental
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 — even if that’s what you think, phrasing like, “I can tell this has really upset you” will make them feel more seen.
Repeat Back What They’re Saying
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 with them.
Listen To Your Instincts
“My biggest piece of advice is to know that you have a solid, genuine response within you,” Rosenblatt says. “Take a moment, close your eyes, and ask yourself: if I was in my friend’s situation, what would I want to hear most? and listen for the answer.” Second-guessing your texts or retyping them ten times may make your friend even more stressed. Give yourself 30 seconds to think through your responses. This’ll also calm the pace of that conversation.
Guide Their Breathing
One very practical, immediate thing you can do to help — especially if they’re really freaking out or panicking — is to help them breathe through it. “It may be helpful to remind them to take deep breaths, or focus on breathing in and out,” McBain says. Sending a text every four seconds — breathe in, hold, breathe out, hold — can give them a script to follow.
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. Rather than giving advice first and asking questions later, ask questions about what they practically need. “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.”
McBain suggests another script: “Do you need solutions right now or support from me?” Sometimes people need a sounding board to vent, while others want comfort, cheerful .gifs, or a 1,000-word essay about why they’re amazing.
Offer Some Options
When a loved one is freaking out over text, Rice says you’ll want to “provide them with options to self-soothe.”
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 from when they were five 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.”
Keep Things Practical
Sense your friend is feeling really overwhelmed, and that talking things through with you is more work than help? “Ask your friend if you can provide assistance with a difficult task like helping them go through their mail, setting up therapy or doctor’s appointments, or helping them deep clean their kitchen,” Kelly says. Practical assistance and concrete future plans can help make them feel anchored.
Liz Kelly, LICSW, a therapist with Talkspace
Heidi McBain, LMFT LPC, therapist
Lillyana Morales, L.M.H.C., psychotherapist
Sarah Rice, MHC-I, NYU
Kate Rosenblatt, LPC LMHC, a therapist with Talkspace
This article was originally published on