7 Ways to Provide Emotional Support Without Draining Your Reserves

Emotional Support

Giving and receiving emotional support is an integral part of the human experience. After all, we are social creatures that need each other for survival. People who thrive generally have a good support system and know how to give help to others in healthy ways without sacrificing themselves. These same people have better personal relationships, better physical and psychological health, longevity, and greater emotional intelligence according to research.



People who thrive generally have a good support system and know how to give help to others in healthy ways without sacrificing themselves. Click To Tweet

Of course, helping others makes us feel good, too. In fact, one recent study examining neural pathways and giving and receiving emotional support showed psychological benefits for both, but stress-reducing activity only in those who gave support. While our innate altruism may drive us to be emotional support for people in our lives, we receive some unique physiological benefits from doing so!

Below you’ll find a list of ways to help others while maintaining personal boundaries, compiled out of the collective wisdom of researchers and mental health professionals.

7 Ways to Provide Emotional Support Without Draining Your Reserves

1. Listen and validate.

One of the greatest ways to support someone emotionally is to be present and listen. Oftentimes, when someone is distressed about something, they need to talk about it without being interrupted, judged, dismissed, or given advice.

Give them your undivided attention. Avoid distractions like your phone or letting your mind slip away to tasks you may need to do. Show interest in their words by facing them and having open body language, and signaling you are listening by nodding or saying, “yeah.” If you don’t understand something, ask them to clarify. “Tell me more,” is a great way to encourage someone to open up.

After listening, it’s equally important to validate what someone has shared with you.

A recent study examined how people responded to a variety of different messages offering emotional support. They found that messages that validated a person’s feelings were more effective and helpful than ones that were critical or diminished emotions. You can validate what someone has shared by reflecting back on the essence of what they shared without judgment. Research shows that being heard is not only helpful in providing emotional support, but it also has beneficial effects in resolving conflict too!

2. Cultivate healthy empathy.

Empathy is the key ingredient when listening and validating another person’s experience.  Empathy is essentially the capacity to share and understand another’s state of mind or emotion.

In order to maintain your own sense of well-being while providing emotional support to another, research shows that it is important to think about how an individual is feeling (empathic concern) rather than attempting to feel someone’s pain (empathic distress). It’s a nuanced distinction, but an important one, especially for those who tend to have a lot of empathy. The research shows that identifying too much with how someone feels can trigger your own distress.

If you find an individual’s heartache, emotional trauma or depression is feeling like your own that’s a sign that you need to take a step back. Ask yourself, “What are some of the feelings this person could be experiencing right now?” Take it off yourself. Research suggests it can help you diffuse negative emotions, which can make a real difference physically. A few breaths can help as well. And you can always ask the individual, “What do you need right now?” This takes you back to them. And it’s less likely you’ll get stressed and drained.

3. Don’t judge, dismiss, fix, or give unsolicited advice.

This one is a tall order indeed! Even if you see that a challenging situation may be a result of a person’s actions, it does not help them to point it out. (This can be tempting especially for parents providing support to a teen or young adult.) They are likely struggling with their own negative thoughts. They need a compassionate listener, not a critical one. Be positive and constructive. Let them know you believe in their ability to overcome their challenge.

Be careful not to dismiss someone’s pain. Well-meaning statements like, “It could be a lot worse,” or “At least you still have a job,” should be avoided. They deny their experience and often imply they shouldn’t feel bad in the first place. No matter how inconsequential you think someone’s concern is, don’t brush it off.

It’s important to your own well-being not to get involved in fixing or giving unsolicited advice. It’s not your job to fix someone’s pain. Avoiding this will save you energy and the potential for someone to become too dependent on you. Once they have expressed their feelings, research shows that some offering solicited advice can be beneficial. Though, experts suggest directing solutions back to the individual, asking questions like, “What might help you feel better?” or “Is there someone who has dealt with this situation before you can talk to?”

4. Do small things to help.

A friend or loved one trying to manage emotional challenges often has less capacity to handle some of the basics of day-to-day living and may neglect their own hygiene or health. Bypass grand acts of benevolence, and instead focus on small acts that are useful in order to be supportive. Doing this is an excellent way to avoid getting drained. Do only what have the time and energy to do.

These small kindnesses can be much more meaningful. In a 2017 study, 495 men and women answered a series of questions about what makes them feel loved. Results showed that the participants saw the human connection as more meaningful expression of care than receiving lavish gifts.

Some ideas might include:

  • Making them a brain healthy meal.
  • Helping out in their home by doing dishes or laundry.
  • Bringing flowers and their favorite treats.
  • Running an errand such as posting mail or picking up dry cleaning.

5. Do activities.

Help your friend or loved one get their mind off things. Suggest a fun, low-key activity that can easily be rescheduled if need be. Examples might be taking a walk at the beach, cooking a healthy meal, organizing something easy in their home, playing a game like backgammon, or watching an entertaining show.

6. Encourage professional help.

There may be limits to the support you can provide. In order to help your friend or loved one and not to become overburdened yourself, encourage them to seek medical help. They may have an underlying brain health issue from which an accurate diagnosis from a medical professional and a personalized treatment plan can make a world of difference.

7. Have boundaries.

It’s critical to your own well-being to take excellent care of yourself and give only what you can without harming yourself. That means ensuring you get plenty of restful sleep, exercise regularly, eat a brain healthy diet, and take time out for rest and enjoyment.

Be especially careful to have firm boundaries with emotionally draining individuals. You know who they are: They are usually always in a crisis, are not interested in solutions, have an endless list of needs and expectations, and guilt or manipulate you when you set a boundary!

Emotional Support and Empathy

Providing emotional support helps to strengthen our empathy, and that has very positive consequences collectively. In a published study called “The Science of Empathy,” one researcher asserts that “if we are to move in the direction of a more empathic society and a more compassionate world” that this built-in quality needs to be exercised in us all.

Mental health issues and the need for greater emotional support can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Mental health is very important as eating healthy-and daily exercise and companionship

    Comment by Joanna Flores — January 7, 2022 @ 3:24 AM

  2. This is interesting and true. I have a new neighbor, who is nice , but can try to use me. I just have to say no to some of her wanting.

    Comment by Wendy Rodgers — January 7, 2022 @ 3:36 AM

  3. This came a t a perfect time. I have an aunt who is 69 and homeless. Constantly pouring our her problems. It weighs heavy on me and my family. No one has. We able to make headway. She is determined to do things her way but keeps unloading I am currently taking a break from her as it gets too heavy Diana

    Comment by Diana sheaed — January 7, 2022 @ 4:46 AM

  4. Good one. Have a great day.

    Comment by Timothy Lee — January 7, 2022 @ 6:28 AM

  5. I find these articles very nurturing and helpful. Too bad the Amen clinic is so expensive or we would all go.

    Comment by Emily — January 7, 2022 @ 6:32 AM

  6. Good article. I teach my students the difference between empathy and sympathy. Empathetic behaviors help the other person more and protects and self-empwers the helper.

    Comment by Doris McCugh — January 7, 2022 @ 8:20 AM

  7. This article was so helpful to me today–especially reading about empathic concern vs. empathic distress. My sister who has MS is in an assisted care facility and getting worse. Our mother died when my sister was three years old and that was just the beginning of the trauma. I saw her recently and did what I could for her… but it’s very difficult for me knowing she’s in so much pain, and barely able to walk. I’m working on my mindfulness, but I’m a very empathic person, and it’s not easy. I’m also struggling with guilt because my life is so much easier. I know I’ve got to take good care of myself and I keep reminding myself that I’ll be much more helpful to her if I’m healthy. I probably need to become clearer on when my empathic concern becomes empathic distress.

    Comment by Margo Emrich — January 7, 2022 @ 9:53 AM

  8. Thank you.

    Comment by Mary Helen Lechuga — January 8, 2022 @ 11:58 AM

  9. Thankyou a very helpful article and a good reminder….I did a short course in meditation last year it was very insightful. I began to understand the differences between empathy and compassion …emotional empathy seemed to be based on emotional connection- leading to emotional drain in some situations . Whereas Compassion based connection was as the above more pro-action orientated support and also directing the individual to seek professional guidance when one is out of one’s depth.

    Comment by Yvonne Marie forster — January 9, 2022 @ 5:29 AM

  10. Very good article. Covered lots of good do and do nots. Most important when offering help to those asking or in need.

    Comment by Carol besse — January 9, 2022 @ 10:39 AM

  11. Dr. Amen seems to use a complexity of studies that promise correct Diagnosis, – so essential to indicate the course of healing

    Comment by Marierose M Shepard — January 9, 2022 @ 11:46 AM

  12. Empathic distress is why there is a movement to rename compassion fatigue as empathy fatigue. Doing small things, listening and validating is a way to transform feeling another persons suffering into positive feelings. Showing compassion is good for everyone.

    Comment by Shoshana Helfenbaum — January 10, 2022 @ 4:30 AM

  13. This is excellent information. Thank you I will use every word .

    Comment by lois baur — January 10, 2022 @ 2:15 PM

  14. excellent information!

    Comment by Doug Morris — February 10, 2023 @ 4:33 PM

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