Knowing how to cheer someone up whether they have had a bad day or are suffering from long term mental health issues is never as easy as it sounds. We are all trying to balance making someone feel better with letting them feel their feels and not putting undue pressure on someone to feel good when they just really don't feel up to it.
While there is definitely a place for feel-good cat memes and 'hang in there's', we also need to make sure that we are not brushing over the story with cut and paste platitudes and that sometimes the best way to help our loved ones is to remind them that we see them, we hear them, and that we are here for them.
If you want some straight-up ways to put those words into actions, these tips on how to cheer someone up also come backed by scientific research...
In this post:
Way #1 Send Gentle Encouragement
How to do it: If you know someone is having a rough time of it, one way you can step in and make a difference is by reaching out first. We live in a world still where there is a lot of pressure placed on people to feel and to be their best and sometimes it can be tricky admitting that we need help. If you know your friend well, you will know when things are off-kilter and this is your silent invitation to step in and send a simple text letting them know that they are on your mind. Gentle words of affirmation are always a good thing for your friend to hear.
What the research says: Those who are struggling with something don't necessarily need advice and as this article from Healthline points out, sometimes offering a quick fix solution can feel judgemental and have the opposite effect of helping regardless of good intentions. By sending gentle affirmations and letting someone know you are thinking of them and you believe in them, this can connect through empathy.
Way #2 Engage Them
How to do it: Whether it's sharing photos of the two of you, inviting them to play online scrabble or dabble in crossword puzzles, or even just sharing an inspirational quote with sticky notes like 'this made me think of you', the trick is to engage them into sharing some space with you. It's been a year where we couldn't all hang out as much as we maybe once did and this can lead to people feeling a little more isolated than normal. Rather than just sending a text, you can take it one step further and create engaging online spaces and activities that can help reduce negative emotions and feel more inclusive.
What the research says: It seems that part of helping people who are down and out means providing them with a support structure so that they feel less alone. Medical News Today notes that encouraging or engaging someone who is depressed can help them feel less alone and have a profound impact on their motivation levels. They do note that it's important to keep things small and laid back so as not to lead to someone feeling overwhelmed.
Way#1 Encourage Them to Keep a Gratitude Journal
How to do it: While positive washing over someone's feelings is definitely not one of the best ways to cheer someone up, encouraging them to keep a gratitude journal is different. The process of putting pen to paper and making a note of the things you are truly grateful for (no matter how small) can help someone who is going through a tough time to feel better and see that even in the darkest of times, there is a little light. Keeping a journal of gratitude can make someone search for the small pleasures, whether its gratitude for family members and friends or gratitude for a gulp of fresh air, its the humblest things that can help to gently tweak perspective.
What the research says: There has been a whole lot of research into the science of gratitude journaling and depression. This one here from Berkeley discusses how the research that has gone into working out just how gratitude has changed your brain. Within the studies, it found that gratitude can help free you from toxic emotions, that it encouraged positive language, and that it left a long-lasting imprint on the brain.
Way #2 Get Them Outside
How to do it: If you want to help your friend or family member who is feeling the weight of the world then it may be worth remembering that low moods and depression can have a knock-on effect when it comes to energy levels. While your friend may not be up for mountain biking or some big adventure, even just coaxing them outdoors to sit with you on a park bench and to get some fresh air can help alleviate bad feelings just a little bit. Natural light, vitamin D, and a change of scenery should not be underestimated when cheering someone up.
What the research says: This think piece from Harvard called it. The article titled Sour mood getting you down? Get Back to Nature cited that the studies into the effects of ecotherapy (AKA being outdoors and in nature) had a soothing effect, calmed cortisol levels, and reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex (AKA the place where we ruminate on our problems). It goes on to say that even just 20 minutes in nature or outdoor space can have a positive effect and make you feel calmer and more positive.
Way #1 Suggest Volunteering
How to do it: If your friend or loved one is in a slump after their breakup they may feel like they have lost a sense of purpose and like their routine has been tipped upside down. Adjusting to this new thought process can be tricky stuff and they may also be going through a form of loss or grief and working out how to handle change and loneliness. By encouraging them to get involved with volunteer work or helping out a local charity, this can help to bring a sense of purpose and clarity back. Whether it's visiting nursing homes or helping out at the local soup kitchen, acts of charity can help people to feel good, meet new people, and can dramatically improve mental health both in the short term and the long term too.
What the research says: Volunteer work and wellbeing go hand in hand. This study right here from the Journal of Health and Social Behavior takes an in-depth look at the how volunteer work in the community can nurture personal well-being: happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, sense of control over life, physical health, and depression. Studies have shown that turning to volunteer work can boost energy levels and that by helping someone else, we can emotionally benefit from a sense of purpose rather than helplessness.
Way #2 Send Flowers
How to do it: Pick a bright and bustling bouquet and get it sent to their door or place of work with a lush little handwritten note letting them know that their pal is thinking of them. There is nothing that cheers someone up faster than a fragrant bouquet of blooms. Not only will a wild array of color instantly pick them up, but the scent of flowers is said to have an impact on our parasympathetic nervous system, helping to keep those cortisol levels on the down-low (see the article cited below).
What the research says: This fascinating think piece on Flower Power has a ton of citations on studies that prove that flowers really do cheer us up. It notes that those who receive flowers can enjoy a better mood for up to three days after, and that research is being done on how floral blooms stimulate our pleasure receptors.
Way #1 Give a Handwritten Note
How to do it: Disappointment is a bitter pill to swallow and while it can be fleeting, it doesn't feel great at the time. An easy way to take the sting out of a loss or feelings of unworthiness that can come with losing a game is to simply write a note. Some soft words in a card may not be the most unique gift idea, but it's the little things that count. No need to get all flowery and deep with word associations, simply state that someone is great and you are proud of them (plus any other relevant positive affirmations that could help). Reinforcing someone's worth and helping them feel seen is a thoughtful gift that costs nothing but words and is something we should all strive to do more often.
What the research says: In this piece from Psychology Today, there are many valid points made about the impact that low self-esteem can have on our mental health. We have a tendency to be our own harshest critics which is why losing a game can have a knock-on effect when it comes to worthiness. But, by being reminded that we are not our circumstances and that our unique gifts are recognized by our peers, this can all help lift us out of the slump.
Way #1 Have a Dance Party
How to do it: Movement is more than just a shift in the body, it can also help shift the mind too. One of the best stress reliever techniques in the entire world, nothing can cut through a bad day quite like throwing shapes and getting those endorphins flowing. If your friend needs cheering up then turn the feel-good tunes right up and encourage them to get their body moving. If they are a little self-conscious about the idea of dancing, then switch off the lights and boogie on down in the dark. At best, this will for sure help cheer them up and at worst, it will shift some stagnant energy so they are able to move past a difficult day.
What the research says: Science pulls no punches when it comes to the feel-good frenzy of having a dance-a-thon. This study from The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Wellbeing pulls together all the ideas and ways in which dance has been used to resist, reduce, and escape stress. It cites that dance is an evolutionary gift and looks at the ways in which different cultures turn to the benefits of dance as a method of belonging and bonding. In the physical sense, dance also raises your oxytocin and encourages serotonin production, earning it bonus points as a brilliant go-to when feeling down.
Way #2 Do a Meditation Sesh
How to do it: It may be the opposite of dancing, but meditation can be magic for your mind, especially if you are an anxious or stressed out person. When someone has had a day of it, sometimes the best thing to do is to encourage them to sit with you in mindful meditation. Sitting in intention and allowing ourselves to process the day means making space for letting our feelings 'just be' rather than having a fight with them. Meditation doesn't have to be a complex thing or even about the pressure to clear your mind completely. It is just a way of taking five, focusing on your breath, and being with your body right here and right now and this can be hugely calming.
What the research says: An incredible intervention for stress and bringing a positive impact to your overall wellbeing, this original research paper on how even brief meditation training can improve perceived stress and negative mood showcased that there was a significant improvement in the study groups neuroticism after just a 20-minute daily sesh.
Way #1 Watch a Funny Movie
How to do it: It may be an old cliche but the term 'laughter is the best medicine' truly does carry some weight. If your beau is feeling far from their brilliant self then a little good cheer could be just what is needed to pick up their spirits. Slip-on a funny movie and encourage them to take five from their problem by losing themselves in the pure unbridled joy of laughter. While a film won't make their problems go away, it can cause a little light relief and distraction from low moods and anxiety which in turn can serve up a fresh perspective.
What the research says: Even Freud did a major psychological study of the effects of humor and psychotherapy. In this piece titled Learning to Laugh: Humor as Therapy in the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, it is noted that humor could be used to encourage a sense of belonging, to facilitate communication, to ease sadness, and to promote perspective.
Way #2 Do the Small Things
How to do it: Making someone feel good isn't all about the grand gesture, sometimes it's about the simplest actions that can make someone feel seen and special. Whether it's making them a warm drink to take to bed or buying them a cute little gift, a chocolate bar, or slipping a little note or funny picture in with their lunch, it's the tiny things that lift because they show someone that you care and you are thinking of them.
What the research says: Acts of service is one of the love languages out there and when someone is feeling far from their best, having a loved one make even a smidge of a gesture can be significant. Feeling loved and cherished isn't about being forced to talk or feel better, it's about someone recognizing that you are struggling and inching you up bit by bit.
Way #1 Plan a Self-Care Day
How to do it: Run a warm bath and pour a glass of wine, because it's self-care day baby. When moods are low, people don't always have the motivation to take action that will make them feel better and this is where loved ones can step in. Small and gentle self-care actions can show that you care and send a much-needed message that you are there for them and will help get them through it. Create a home spa with some much-needed pampering, gift them their favorite ice-cream or play their favorite song while they soak in the tub. A care package doesn't need to be a big grand gesture, it can be a series of small thoughts that help someone climb out of the hole of a bad mood.
What the research says: Self-care is an essential part of building our resistance skills and avoiding the pit of burnout. Some days are always harder than others, but as this tip from Mind UK reminds us, taking time for recovery and to look after ourselves leads to heightened self-esteem and better stress management.
Way #2 Give Them Dark Chocolate
How to do it: Believe it or not the world is full of foods that can instantly lift your mood and yes - dark chocolate is one of these delights. Whether it's buying a big blow out bar, baking some brownies, or putting together a gorgeous gift basket littered with chocolate treats and a flower or two, this simple go-to is one of the easiest ways of making someone s day.
What the research says: Even this piece from Psychology Today underscores the truth we all knew too well - that yes, chocolate is good for depression. Stuffed full of the good stuff that helps your body create dopamine, not to mention the pinch of caffeine that raises energy, and the flavanols for improving mood, dark chocolate is here to boost all those positive emotions.
Remember, cheering someone up can be tricky emotional work so always make sure to make time for yourself and not to run your own energy dry.
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