5 minutes read time.
Dr. David H. Demmer, Senior Clinical Psychologist
Checking in is one of the simplest, but often most powerful things we can do as a friend.
Make a point to check in if someone close to you is struggling, or if you just haven’t heard from them in a while.
When you do check in, start small, keep the stakes low, and do everything you can to make them feel comfortable opening up.
“Just checking in.” Depending on your personality type, the sound of these three words from a friend might make you feel valued. Or you might break out in hives.
The truth is, all of us (yes, even the introverts) need someone in our lives who can check in on us from time to time. Someone who cares how we’re really doing, beyond the usual superficial answers. But knowing when and how to check in? That’s another matter.
Here’s how you can check in on your friends… without making it weird.
While there isn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ time to check in on someone, there are a handful of situations that can definitely warrant some extra attention on your part – for example:
When your friend is going through a rough patch. Whether it’s an ailing parent, relationship troubles, or losing a job, if you know your mate is facing extra tough circumstances, don’t sit back. Reach out.
When you see signs of depression or mental health issues. It’s time to say something if you notice any common signs of depression, including:
When you haven’t heard from them in a while. It may be nothing – or just the usual chaos of life. Or maybe you just keep missing each other. It could also be there’s something they’re struggling with and they’re not sure how to bring it up. Whatever the reason, big or small, don’t put off checking in. Your call, text, or face-to-face chat could be exactly what your friend needs right now.
Just… whenever. There doesn’t always have to be a reason to check in with a mate.
Checking in doesn’t have to be this awkward, unpleasant experience. Here are some tips you can follow to keep it from getting weird – for you or your friend.
Pay attention to the vibes they give off when you reach out. Do they seem eager or reluctant to chat? Do they clam up or open up?
If they don’t want to talk…
Respect their boundaries. Don’t try to force the conversation. Instead, just remind them that you’re always here to listen if they need anything. If it’s just a case of bad timing, you could ask if there’s anything time when they might be up for a chat.
If they do want to talk…
Suggest meeting in person (if you’re currently chatting by text or phone). Choose a setting that lends itself to a good chat. Most people find it easier to chat over coffee or a meal, or while doing something else, like playing a round of golf or going on a hike together. When you take some of the focus off the conversation, you may find the conversation flows a little easier.
Be prepared to give them your full attention when you chat. (Translation: put the phone down for a bit.)
Don’t ambush your friend with a big heart-to-heart they may not be ready to have. Depending on how they prefer to communicate (or how close the two of you are), a simple text may be a better first step than calling them up or swinging by their place.
Try not to be too serious or direct right out of the gate. For example, don’t lead off with, ‘Hey I’ve been worried about you.’ (Even if you have been.) Instead, you could casually mention something that made you think about them – maybe a new favourite show on Netflix, as one example.
You also don’t have to have a specific reason or agenda for checking in. You could just say, ‘I’ve been thinking of you recently and thought I’d text to say hey. How have you been?’
You can be more creative than, ‘You ok?’ Questions that invite a one-word response are likely to get a… one-word response.
Try asking some open-ended questions instead, such as:
If you’ve noticed a change in your friend’s behaviour recently (see above), bring it up. But be sure to do so in a non-threatening, judgment-free way.
If you start by sharing something you’ve been dealing with lately, it may help your friend to feel more comfortable opening up to you. Besides, who said they’re the only one who could use some encouragement? A friendly check-in may be just what you needed, too.
Your first job as a friend is to be a good listener. Depending on what your mate has to share, they may just need someone to vent to. Be sure to ask before offering any advice. For example, you could say, ‘I’ve got a few thoughts about this. Is it ok if I share them with you?’
Checking in doesn’t have to be a one-time thing. Make a point to follow up – and make more than just a mental note to do so. Schedule a time to check in with your friend the following week. Set a reminder or put it on your calendar so it doesn’t fall off your radar.
If your friend shares that they’re struggling with anxiety or stress, send them a text every week or so to let them know you’re thinking of them. Gently make sure they’re taking care of themselves – getting enough sleep, getting enough to eat, getting outside, and so on.
Remember to ask from a place of care, not judgement . It’s ok to offer tangible, low-key help. For example, you could offer to pick something up for them when you’re running to the store. Or you could offer to drop off their favourite pizza at their house.
Checking in doesn’t have to be awkward. Done the right way at the right time, it can actually be one of the best things you can do for a friend.