Supporting yourself and helping others

Activities to help you develop skills to support yourself and others during times of change and difficulty

Two ladies chatting inside a home.

We might not realise it, but we help and support those around us every day. Whether it’s listening to a friend talk about their day or holding a door open for someone, a small act of kindness can have a big impact on that person. Research shows, helping others also improves our own wellbeing and makes us feel good.

Sometimes though people need more support and that can be daunting. We often worry about saying the wrong thing or doing something wrong. We can also feel a pressure to ‘rescue’ the person, and ‘fix’ their problems for them which can be harmful to our wellbeing.

At the Red Cross we support people in particularly challenging times, and we have developed activities which help us support people safely and which you can also use to help support yourself.

The C.A.L.M.E.R approach

Developed by the British Red Cross' psychosocial and mental health team, the C.A.L.M.E.R approach is a way of understanding someone’s wellbeing needs when they are feeling upset and changing our behaviour to consider how we can support them. When supporting someone in a challenging time, try the following steps:

Consider your own needs, and the needs of others. Whether helping yourself or someone else, this step is important. You can’t help them if your health and wellbeing isn’t supported.

Acknowledge that everyone has had different experiences and may have a different perspective. You might see the situation differently, but it doesn’t mean that the person’s view isn’t valid.

Listen with empathy. Practise active listening and pay close attention to what someone is telling you is wrong.

Manage the situation by promoting respect and dignity. Keep in mind that the person you are helping is a human being.

Enable choice making by providing information and suggestions. Remind the person that they are in control and have choices. Helping people is about empowering them.

Resources can be used to show them where they can access further support. If you’re not sure, find out together by seeking help or looking online.

Using this activity can help you learn to support others in a humane and responsible way, which also protects your wellbeing too. Try practising using this activity next time you support someone who is upset.

Does it help guide your actions?

Listening with empathy

Listening forms a key part of communication and is especially important when supporting yourself and others. Without listening skills, we can misunderstand what other people mean and communication can easily break down. Here you can learn about what makes a "good" listener and how you can improve your own skills.


We change between what we call passive and active listening. Can you guess what the difference is between the two? What do you think makes someone an active listener? Take the two following examples, which one do you think is listening actively with empathy?

Person A is listening to a friend talk about a difficult day they’ve had. They’re on their phone checking messages at the same time as listening. They nod every now and then and half-way through start to talk about a similar situation they had recently. The conversation becomes about them and eventually the friend stops sharing what happened to them.

Person A gives lots of advice about what their friend should do in future.

Person B is listening to their friend talk about a difficult day they’ve had too. They stop what they are doing, put their phone down and look them in the face as they are talking. They nod to show they are listening and try not to interrupt them. When they’ve finished talking, they ask, “how are you feeling about this?” and clarify that they understand by saying, “So, just to check I understand, you were upset about the way he spoke to you?”.

Person B doesn’t offer advice but asks their friend what they think they want to do about the situation first.

Think about

Which person do you think was the active listener? What techniques did they use that you can pick out?

Some things you have may have spotted:

  • Showing that you are listening with your body language.
  • Making eye contact, concentrating on the conversation and nodding for reassurance.
  • Trying not to interrupt them and keeping the conversation focused on them and their experiences and feelings.
  • Sharing your own experiences might seem empathetic, but it can make the conversation about you and come across as insensitive if the other person doesn’t have the chance to speak first.
  • Supporting the other person to think and reflect about how they feel.
  • Checking they’ve understood what the problem is to show they listened and understand.
  • Trying not to offer too much advice, but instead focusing on empowering the other person to make decisions.


Next time you have a conversation with someone, could you try using some of these techniques? Even using one or two of them will help you become an active listener, which will help support others more effectively and build positive connections with others.

Support line

If you know someone who needs more support than you can give them or is seeking advice, suggest that they call our free and confidential support line. British Red Cross volunteers are available to offer guidance and help, particularly to those experiencing isolation, loneliness or need additional support. 

Call the support line on 08081963651.

Supporting your wellbeing

Taking care of your own wellbeing is important when supporting yourself and others. Not only is it good for your everyday health, it also helps us cope with moments of uncertainty and stress we may encounter.

Explore more of our wellbeing support activities and resources that you could use to help yourself or someone else.

Self kindness toolkit cover image

Self-kindness toolkit 

Boost your wellbeing with our free self-kindness toolkit. It's full of activities to build resilience, cope with worries, and connect with others.. You can order printed copies or download the pack to read online.