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Ask the Strategist: Thoughtful Gifts for Friends Going Through a Tough Time

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

In our advice column, “Ask the Strategist,” we take your most burning shopping questions and scour friends, call up experts, and draw from personal experience to answer them. As always, please email with one of your own, or DM us on Instagram — we’re here to help.

Do you have any suggestions for a thoughtful gift for someone going through a tough time?Strategist UK Instagram follower @a.rielita.

When a friend is going through a tough time, it’s natural to want to reach out. But just as it can be difficult to find the right words to say, finding the right gift to send can also prove tricky. Tough times can range from job-induced stress to grieving the loss of a loved one — and there’s no one-size-fits-all response. So we chatted to experts, including authors and a grief therapist, to find out what they would suggest. We also had a delve through our archives and dug up some items we’ve personally found to be thoughtful gifts over the years.

Our experts even gave us a few tips about reaching out in the right way. Litsa Williams, a grief therapist and co-founder of What’s Your Grief?, told us that around Christmastime, one of the best gifts you can give someone who is suffering is simply to relieve them from the pressure to buy you a gift. According to Williams, “a simple call or text” communicating this can be “such a relief,” particularly for those who are grieving. Robyn Donaldson and Emma Hopkinson, co-authors of It’s Your Loss, also had some advice. “You need to keep in mind that person might not respond to the gift,” says Hopkinson. She recalled the time a loved one became offended that she hadn’t worn a bracelet gifted to her after her mother’s passing. “It also needs to be futureproof,” adds Donaldson. “Big statement things that are so rooted in a time which is quite traumatic can then become a bit of a burden.”

From £10

Hopkinson and Donaldson emphasized that each person is different, and it’s important to be thoughtful about what type of gift is right. “For me, the big one, being estranged, Christmas can be quite tricky,” says Donaldson. “One thing me and a friend like to do is give experiences, so we’re doing something nice together that’s banked, which takes the pressure off around Christmas.”

Hopkinson also enjoys gifts that allow her to reflect on her feelings. “I like time to sit and process my emotions,” she says. Her suggestions included anything from a floppy teddy — “for a cuddle moment” — to a bottle of Champagne and some glasses for toasting “to take a moment and remember the person that I’ve lost.”

For more ideas, Hopkinson and Donaldson suggested a diary in which your recipient can write down their thoughts and feelings. They also said pamper gifts can be a thoughtful treat. “The Aromatherapy Associates box is pretty nice,” says Donaldson of the “pricey” but “aggressively spalike” gift. Hopkinson says she personally enjoys some handpicked, small-batch organic beauty products. Both experts noted that being gifted something a friend had found to have worked for them personally was a special touch.

In a similar vein, Beth French from Let’s Talk About Loss told us the company’s Kindness Kits always have an increase in sales as the “darker and colder nights have drawn in.” The boxes include some pampering treats for a struggling friend as well as some advice on prioritising self-care.

Kat Lister, author of The Elements, recalled a thoughtful gift she received during an exceptionally tough time of grief: “A few weeks after my husband died, a very close friend sent me a collection of poems with a message inside that read, ‘A bouquet of words because flowers fade too fast.’ I’ve never forgotten this sentiment.” If finding the right words yourself seems impossible, gifting some literature or a book from an experienced perspective could be the next best thing. “Words can’t erase the grief, but they can help us understand it,” Lister says.

From £22

We also like sending a tried-and-tested bouquet to let a friend know they’re in our thoughts. The flowers from Bloom & Wild are a Strategist favourite, having been featured in several of our stories (including our list of the 100 items we most stand behind.) You could even send a dried bouquet, which will last longer and need less attention than fresh flowers.

No matter what type of tough time your friend is going through, removing the need to shop and cook will give them an opportune chance to relax. Plus, their favourite takeaway is guaranteed to be a welcome treat.

If your friend has been struggling to get enough rest, a bottle of This Works Deep Sleep Body Cocoon could help them out. It was first brought to our attention by contributor Issy Sampson. After incorporating it into her nightly routine, Sampson says she sent a tube to her extremely stressed sister, “a respiratory physiotherapist who was recalled to the NHS front line from her office job during the first lockdown.” After lathering herself in it, Sampson’s sister reported having her “first night of undisturbed sleep since she started at the Nightingale Hospital.” For more gifts that might help your recipient drift off, take a closer look at our archive here.

The Strategist UK is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Read about who we are and what we do here. Our editors update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

Ask the Strategist: Gifts for Friends Having a Tough Time