12 powerful ways to uplift anyone when they’re feeling down, according to psychology

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

It’s a tough position to be in:

Somebody you care about is feeling down and you’re not sure what to do or say about it. 

Should you leave them alone? Buy them a gift? Invite them to a party? 

You’re pondering what to do but scared that the wrong move could push your friend or loved one even further into a dark place of isolation and withdrawal. 

Here’s advice backed up by psychology about what to do to help uplift somebody when they’re feeling down. 

1) Check in with them

The first thing to do when somebody is down in the dumps is to check in with them and see what they need. 

In some cases they really do need space or some time on their own. In other cases they’re feeling very lonely or need a shoulder to cry on. 

By asking how you can best support them and leaving it open to them, you create a space of sharing and coming together where they can be themselves and know that you’re on their side in whatever way they need. 

As psychology writer Elizabeth Perry puts it

“If someone is going through a tough time, it’s okay to ask them directly how you can best support them and offer some positive vibes. Ask them if they want to talk, if they need a distraction, or if they wish to be left alone.”

2) Practice active listening

When checking in with somebody who’s down, whether it’s online and via text or in person, it’s crucial to practice active listening

This means hearing what the person is saying, along with the motivations, needs, fears and emotions behind what they’re saying. 

You’re listening between the lines. 

For example, maybe they are studiously avoiding talking about what’s really bothering them. A gentle question about it could open things up. 

Which brings up the next pointer… 

3) Broach the subject

Many times when a person is suffering and feeling down about a specific issue or setback, people dance around the subject. 

They offer a helping hand or support without ever being brave enough to just bring up the issue itself. 

Truly helping can be awkward and uncomfortable: it can often mean directly bringing up what might be bothering this individual and offering to hear them out and be there for them about it. 

Psychologist Tracy Carver, PhD, encourages folks to be direct about the issue to help uplift a person who’s feeling down:

“Asking about it in clear terms shows you care and are willing to deal with the issue as it is without sugarcoating it, which will likely come as a relief.”

4) Admit what you don’t know

Empathy is crucial when it comes to uplifting somebody who’s down, but there’s a big difference between genuine empathy and forcing it. 

To be truly empathetic, it’s crucial to admit what you don’t know:

You don’t know how it is to be left by your husband…You don’t know what it’s like to struggle with drug addiction…You don’t know what it’s like to be pregnant and not getting support from the father…

By admitting what you don’t know, it builds a bridge of real authenticity, as you can begin connecting on what you do know and truly listening instead of needing to prove you get it. 

5) Don’t force positivity

Few things are less helpful to a person who’s feeling depressed and down than a friend or colleague who is all smiles and tells them to “just cheer up man!”

This isn’t only unhelpful, it’s toxic positivity, demanding that others be happy and chipper as if it’s some kind of requirement. 

Instead of forcing positivity or trying to just snap somebody out of it, allow the darker mood to be what it is and meet this person where they’re at. They’re struggling. 

They’re hating life or something about it (or themselves). Let that sit for a bit instead of demanding that it immediately change.

As Carver explains:

“Don’t try to turn the conversation instantly positive. It’s a natural tendency to want to help the person feel better by having them look at the positive side. However, when you do that, they may feel like you are glossing over what’s wrong…”

6) Make it clear you have their back

Make it clear you have their back and will stand by them through whatever they are going through. 

Whether it’s something emotional, physical or situational, make it crystal clear that you’re with them and that you want what’s best. 

You care about this person either way, even if the situation or their issues take a long time to work through:

There are no conditions on your support. You just want what’s best for them. 

7) Offer practical help

Practical help is something that can make a big difference, even for somebody who’s going through a very psychological or emotional struggle. 

This could be offering to pick up their kids from school when they just need time to rest…

It could be bringing over food or some basic supplies when they have lost somebody they care about…

It could be shooting them a short-term loan when they have to take a week off work to deal with an injury that’s acting up again and has them feeling like trash. 

Whatever form the practical help takes, never underestimate its power. 

8) Watch a movie together or do something fun

Watching a movie together is one great option for boosting someone’s mood for an hour or two. 

“Being close to someone can definitely help them feel less alone. Turn on the TV and find a movie that you’ll both enjoy,” advises Perry. 

“It doesn’t have to be a comedy, either. Anything that the person wants to watch is perfect.”

Other great options include taking them out to a standup comedy show, a theater production or a concert of a type of music or band which they love. 

This may not solve their larger struggle, but it will certainly give them a boost. 

9) Get them active

Activity is an excellent way to get endorphins flowing and help somebody who is feeling down

There doesn’t need to be any talking or analysis involved. They don’t even need to be happy to do it:

But a short walk, jog or exercise routine can massively help somebody out of a funk. 

Getting into their body through exercise (and dance!) are ways to help somebody feel less isolated inside their own mind and difficult emotions. 

They realize the power they have inside them and how it is possible to tap into it. 

“Exercise is especially helpful, so try to get your depressed loved one moving. Going on walks together is one of the easiest options,” advise Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.

10) Recruit them to help out

It can seem strange, but often one of the most powerful ways to help somebody out is to invite them to help other people out. 

By getting a friend or loved one involved in a worthy cause, you can successfully begin to reorient their attention to a proactive, can-do mentality. 

This won’t always be possible, but if they’re willing to help out in the community or with a cause they support in any way, it can be an excellent option. 

As psychologist and research scientist Emma Seppälä, Ph.D writes

“Invite them to join you in supporting a cause or helping someone else. This may seem counterintuitive, but when we help others, we automatically feel better ourselves.”

11) Veg out together

Another great option for lifting somebody’s spirits in the short term is to take them out to a healthy restaurant. 

Comfort food has its place, but a healthy vegetarian restaurant has something else going for it:

Fresh vegetables and fruits, juices and delicious natural meals that actually help to boost mood. 

By getting them out of their slump for an hour or two and boosting their intake of healthy foods, you accomplish two positive actions in one. 

“New research shows that simply boosting your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables can dramatically increase your happiness and well-being. Take your friend to a vegetarian restaurant to try to start beating the blues,” notes Seppälä.

12) Love them for who they are

The best thing you can offer somebody who’s feeling very down is unconditional love. 

Let them know that they mean a lot to you and that you really care about them.

When you show that your love has no strings attached, it allows the person who’s suffering to really open up and feel safe. 

They know they are supported and cared for without having conditions attached to it or expectations. 

As psychology writer Janelle Cox explains:

“Unconditional love is when you love someone no matter what they do and have no expectation of repayment. It means you love someone for who they are, with no strings attached.”

8 things a narcissist will do when they’re jealous of your success

10 phrases only authentic people use, according to psychology