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What can others do or say to make you feel better when you are feeling down or simply having the blues?

How do you like other people to lift your spirits up when you're having a mental breakdown? A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that teenagers right now are sadder than ever. When we asked students if this data reflected their own experiences, many answered yes. “Considering the fact that I’ve struggled with sadness myself, the new report doesn’t shock me,” one student wrote.
When was the last time you felt sad? Did you share your feelings with anyone? If so, who was it? What did that person do or say to try to soothe you? Did you feel better after your interaction, or worse? Why? What, if anything, do you wish the person had done differently?
In “The Best Way to Comfort Someone When They’re Sad,” Melinda Wenner Moyer shares research-based guidance for supporting people in times of need:
When a friend, partner, family member or co-worker is upset, you’ve probably wondered how best to make them feel better. Let them vent? Offer a chocolate bar? Give them space so they can have a good cry? The ideal approach depends on the person and the context, experts say. But a limited yet growing body of research suggests that one of the most powerful ways to soothe a person’s feelings is to start a conversation.
Words play a powerful role in shaping people’s emotions because humans are such a social species. People’s brains are finely attuned to information they get from others, and they’re “constantly using it as feedback to change their behaviors and responses,” said Razia Sahi, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies how social interactions influence people’s emotions. “Other people care a lot about what we think.”
But the words we use to comfort others matter, as some forms of verbal support have been found to be more helpful than others. In a small study published on Dec. 8, for instance, Ms. Sahi and her colleagues found that people consider validation — phrases like, “I understand why you feel that way” or “That sounds very hard” — to be especially comforting. Other forms of feedback, such as helping someone recognize that things will improve or encouraging a person to see the situation from a new perspective, can help too, research suggests. And sometimes, those kinds of responses may even be more useful than phrases of validation in the long run. “Different strategies meet different needs,” said Karen Niven, a professor of organizational psychology at the Sheffield University Management School in Britain who studies how people influence the emotions of those around them.
The advice includes validating others’ emotions:
One consistent finding from the research is that telling people they shouldn’t feel so bad typically makes them feel worse. In a landmark study published in 2012, researchers listened in on 228 phone calls between angry customers and customer service representatives who handled medical-related billing questions and complaints. When the representatives told the upset customers to “calm down” or “relax,” the customers typically became angrier.
These kinds of strategies backfire because they imply that the person’s feelings “might be inappropriate, or that their emotion might be more intense than the situation calls for,” Ms. Sahi explained. It inadvertently sends the message that they’re overreacting, which, paradoxically, only makes them more emotional.
Helping them strategize (if they’re open to it): While phrases of validation can make people feel better in the moment, they won’t necessarily help them solve their problem or resolve their negative emotions in the long run, Dr. Niven said. So if they’re open to it, talking through how to overcome a particular hurdle or repair a conflict may give an upset friend or colleague a sense of control over their situation, Dr. Niven said. This can help ease their emotions and even potentially resolve the issue entirely. And remembering that it’s the thought that most counts: Although it can be hard to know how best to help someone, Dr. Zaki emphasized that we should be confident that our attempts will be appreciated — even if we don’t know what we’re doing. In a small study published in 2022, researchers found that people typically underestimated how useful their attempts to help others would be, perhaps because they feared that their advice wasn’t perfect. Researchers found that people appreciated support even if it wasn’t exactly aligned with their needs. My students, read the entire article and then tell me your honest thoughts:
How do you like to be comforted when you are feeling sad or when you're feeling downhearted? Does any of the advice in the article — for example, having someone validate your feelings or help you come up with a solution to your problem — work for you? Does any of it not work? When was the last time someone turned to you for comfort or came to you to lend you an comforting ear? What did you do or say to try to make the person feel better? Knowing what you know now, is there anything you wish you would have done differently? How do you usually handle feelings of sadness? Do you reach out to others for support? Do you write in a journal or express your emotions creatively in some way? Do you keep it all inside and don't like to appear vulnerable? What advice would you give other young people who aren’t sure or who feel unable and don't know how to support their friends and loved ones when they are feeling down? What has worked for you in the past? Which method has proved efficient for you as well as for others?

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