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Here's the thing about emotions – they need to be acknowledged. Knowing how we feel and what to do about it enables us to take care of ourselves and other people. Our feelings give us important information, even the negative ones.
In this post about how to comfort someone who's sad, keep in mind that sadness is telling us we've lost something we love or the hope of something we long for. Sadness reminds us that something is missing and helps to motivate us to reach out for what we need.
It's tempting to ignore something when we don't know what to do about it, but if someone we care about is sad and we avoid them or pretend we don't see it, they're likely to feel more alone.
Why is the Ability to Comfort Someone So Important?
Knowing how to comfort people is an important skill set. We're in a society where people are struggling with their mental health, and our ability to care for one another is needed to reduce the high levels of anxiety and depression so many struggle with. Even a brief conversation where some care is expressed can be comforting.
Knowing how to give comfort is also key to having stable, healthy relationships. Often, when people are giving their loved ones correction, advice, and their own stories, the loved one is desperately in need of comfort, and won't feel cared for without it.
We owe it to others and to ourselves to be relaxed and confident about how to provide comfort.
Different Reasons Someone May Need Comfort
This could be a long list, right? Here are some common reasons people are sad or grieving:
- A loved one is ill or dying
- They are in conflict with a loved one.
- They have a difficult decision to make that will involve giving something up.
- They've lost something valuable – a job to downsizing, a car to theft, a friendship to a move.
- Something they hoped for hasn't happened.
- They think they've failed.
- A big change is coming.
- They struggle with depression, anxiety, or both.
- They feel isolated.
Knowing why a person is sad gives us a clue as to how we can comfort them.
31 Examples of How to Comfort Someone
1. Tell them what you notice and ask if they're sad.
It's often a relief to the person that you notice something's wrong. Say something like, “You seem down today, are you okay?” That gives them permission to share what's making them sad if they want to.
2. Gently ask them why.
If they do admit to feeling down, asking why without being pushy is another invitation for them to talk about it, which can be healing in itself.
3. Sum up what they said so they know you heard them and you know you understood.
This will reassure them – so few people listen well; it will be a refreshing change.
4. Show empathy.
Empathy means you identify with what it must feel like to be them, in their situation. You can say things like, “Wow, that's a lot to deal with. You must feel overwhelmed,” or “That sounds really sad.”‘
5. Say something to identify with them.
You may not have gone through what they're experiencing, but try to identify with their feelings. Even something as simple as, “If I were you I'd feel really disappointed,” can be comforting.
6. Tell them how sorry you are that they are going through this.
Often we feel really bad for people, but we don't know what to say. When you let them know you wish things were better for them, they feel cared for.
7. Find out if it's situational or persistent.
Some people are only sad when something bad has happened – like the death of someone close, a divorce, or a job loss. If that's the case with the person you're talking to, then that's probably what they'll want to share with you. Telling people what we're going through helps us process it so we can move on. But some people have a chronic struggle with sadness as part of depression or a traumatic past. There's no quick fix. It always helps to be a good listener, and give some of the responses we've already mentioned.
However, it's also important for us not to feel the burden to fix things for someone who's had a lot of suffering. We can be a compassionate, positive influence in their lives, but it's up to them to manage an ongoing mental health problem.
8. Say something to show your acceptance of them.
Often, when we open up about what's bothering us, we feel vulnerable, afraid we might be judged, or treated with no compassion. If you can thank them for telling you, or say anything affirming about how they're dealing with their sadness, that will be comforting.
9. Tell them you'll pray for them. If they're open to it, pray on the spot.
Obviously, this won't work with a passionate atheist, but people struggling with sadness are often wondering if there's a God who cares about them, so an offer of prayer can give them a sense of hope.
10. Take them out for coffee or a meal.
Sometimes talking isn't enough, or the sad person doesn't feel like talking. Sometimes just being with someone while they're down can mean more than words. Keep the importance of living in the moment in mind – just being with people where they're at needs to come before anything else.
11. Gift them with a ‘spa day'.
I remember after a really hard time in my life, a niece took me to lunch, and then we both got a professional massage. That massage relaxed me and helped me feel better than I'd felt in a long time.
12. Give them a hug.
Obviously, you want to be respectful if you don't know the person very well, but someone you know may really appreciate a hug. Some people are more comforted by physical touch than by anything else.
13. Tell them their strengths and attractive features.
Particularly if someone's depressed, sadness can carry with it a sense of failure or low self-worth. It can be helpful and energizing to hear what you see as their good qualities.
14. Give them a gift that means something.
When I was overwhelmed with the care of premature twins, the gift that meant most to me was a cooked meal on my doorstep. At another time, it was a print of the cover of one of my favorite books, beautifully framed. Both gifts showed that the giver was paying attention to what was going on with me. That kind of thoughtfulness can be a great way to comfort someone.
15. Go for a walk or a run.
Exercise can be an instant mood booster, and someone who doesn't have the will or energy to do it alone may be willing to join you if you invite them without pressure and go at their pace.
16. Watch a goofy show.
This won't work for everyone, but sometimes the way to comfort someone can be as easy as helping them forget their sadness for a while.
17. Let them talk about it.
The best friends when we're in real distress are the ones who let us talk about what we're struggling with, even if we've said similar things before. They understand that sometimes we have to say some things over and over until we get them out of our system. Listening well is always the first thing when we're wondering how to comfort someone.
18. Help them with a hard task.
Sometimes making one thing in our lives better helps us feel better about our whole life, and gets us moving in a positive direction. So help someone paint a room, fix their bike, or get their online files organized. Acts of service like this can be especially helpful to people who aren't comfortable talking a lot about their sadness. They know you care when it matters most.
19. Spend time doing what they want to do.
Along the same lines, some people are more comforted by your presence than any words. If you keep them company as they go about their routine, or take a day trip out of town on a Saturday with them, it may lift their spirits more than you can imagine.
20. Cook for them.
Nothing's more comforting to some of us than a good meal, or our favorite dessert!
21. Help them plant something.
My kids make fun of me when I say this, but I swear that getting our hands in the dirt cheers us up. Planting some beautiful flowers or vegetables we enjoy, and watching them grow, is therapeutic for many people.
22. Keep them company in the hardest moments.
Some moments are just too hard to do alone – going to court when you've been wrongly accused, that first trip to the cemetery, that trip back to get your stuff after a break-up. We never forget who shows up for us in these moments. They can cut our pain in half.
23. Visit somewhere beautiful.
Visiting somewhere beautiful, particularly in the natural world, is soothing.
24. Get them to journal, draw, or otherwise express their sadness.
We're not supposed to bottle up our emotions, so talking, drawing or some other art form that gets the sadness out will always help people heal. Check this out for tips on how to start journaling.
25. Say something funny.
This sounds kind of shallow, but some friends can make me laugh even when I'm down, and it lightens my mood! While our dear father was ill before he died, my sister sent me a gif every day of people doing silly dances, and it helped!
26. Help them clean their place.
Cleaning our spaces can help us feel like we're getting a new start. Sometimes when people are sad, they just don't have the energy for cleaning. Helping them can be a real encouragement.
27. Be honest if you think they're putting up with too much.
Sometimes people are sad because they're in destructive relationships or situations, and they need to get themselves out. If you can tell them that gently, and tell them you're concerned, it might help motivate them toward some better choices. If someone's in a toxic living situation, they're going to be sad too much of the time.
28. Stay in touch.
Even a few brief texts can help someone who's sad to know they're not alone.
29. Ask them what helps them to feel better.
You might be surprised at their answer! I couldn't believe it when I first realized how much it cheered my husband up when I took out the garbage, a job that he usually does. Everyone's different.
30. Screen for self-harm and suicide.
This is hard to talk about, but if someone is cutting or thinking about suicide, being asked is exactly what they need. If they admit it, get them to a mental health counselor or an emergency room right away. Even if your fears are wrong and they're not thinking about hurting themselves, they will appreciate that you cared enough to check up on them.
31. Follow up with them.
If it's someone you have ongoing contact with, ask them how they're doing in a day or so, especially if they're in a tough situation. Knowing you're not alone eases emotional pain more than almost anything else.
Final Thoughts on Comforting Someone who is Sad
There may be a lot of different ways to give comfort, but if can only remember the following three tips, you'll be off to a good start:
- Listen well before you speak.
- Keep the focus on empathy, rather than fixing the problem.
- Tell them you're sorry that they have to deal with whatever their struggle is.
Being there for people is a key skill to having solid, meaningful relationships. Fortunately, relationship skills can be learned. For more on improving your communication skills for any situation, check out this this article on SMART goals for communication.