When it hasn't been your friend’s day, week, month or even year, you probably want to channel your inner Phoebe and cheer her up. But how? Tagging her in a funny meme on the ‘Gram or cracking a cheesy joke could be enough to improve her mood, but sometimes the situation calls for something with a little more…oomph.
Keep in mind that your friend might not want to be “cheered” up and that’s OK. And if she isn’t quite sure how she feels about a situation, your attempts to make her smile could fall flat, or prove to be downright un-helpful.
Still, if you know she’s in a funk, you can help by redirecting her energy and encouraging a focus on moving forward, away from negative feelings, thoughts and emotions.
Here are some ways—from a hug to happy hour to a handwritten note—to brighten a day and promote some serious feel-good vibes.
1. Listen to them
Sometimes lending an ear is all it takes to get a person through a tough situation. After all, your pal probably isn’t looking to you for a solution to their problem. More likely, they want to be heard and know that you empathize. Simply allowing them to vent and saying “yeah, that sucks” can make a person feel less alone.
2. GIVE 'EM A HUG
According to scientific research, touch provides a slew of health benefits, including lessening the impact of stress. In fact, a recent study published in Plos One found that a hug from someone, especially a friend or family member, helps buffer against negative emotions. Plus, oxytocin, which is known as the "cuddle hormone," is released when you wrap your arms around someone. In other words, you and your friend will both feel better after a warm embrace.
3. Cook for them
When someone’s down in the dumps, it’s common to experience low energy levels that make it tempting to reach for quick, unhealthy snacks. And while we are firm believers that fries are a very necessary food group, it’s proven fact that carbs can actually block serotonin, which is one of the happiness hormones, and can make you sluggish, unmotivated and downright sad. So, if you’ve got a friend who’s feeling down and eating badly because of it, offer to cook her dinner (or take her out for a proper meal if you don’t cook). Try some hearty, tummy-warming dishes that are comforting but still healthy like Lemony Chicken and Rice Soup, Chickpea and Vegetable Coconut Curry or Spinach Mushroom Lasagna.
4. Or bake a treat
Because sometimes it's easier to express love and support through a Bundt cake—even if you get a little help from Betty Crocker. And bonus points: It benefits you too. Indeed, the act of baking is similar to meditation, and offers a creative outlet that relieves stress (if you actually enjoy baking, that is) and promotes well-being. (Much like volunteering, baking for others helps you feel good about yourself.) Try these easy recipes for beginner bakers or these No-Bake Chocolate Peanut-Butter Pretzel Bars.
5. Send flowers
It might seem like a cliché, but have you ever noticed how just being around some beautiful blooms can perk you right up? Plus, researchers at Rutgers University discovered that flowers really do make people happy. All of the study’s participants expressed excitement when they received a bouquet, and reported feeling less depressed, anxious and agitated afterward.
6. Give them a soothing scent
Along those same lines, sometimes a whiff of the right scent can make you happy or at least less cranky. And we’re not talking about Cinnabon here (although that works too). Rather, certain essential oils are believed to help calm nerves and boost mood. For example, chamomile reduces anxiety, patchouli oil promotes relaxation and bergamot cheers you up and helps relieve irritability. In fact, a 2017 study found that bergamot, which has a spicy floral scent, helped patients feel most positive. An aromatherapeutic treatment like Tata Harper’s Aromatic Irritability Treatment makes a thoughtful wellness gift and it comes with a dose of good energy to boot.
7. Plan a spa day
It’s no surprise that we’re big fans of the self-care movement (even Japanese snow monkeys are into it). That’s because taking time for yourself can lower anxiety, reduce stress and improve immunity, along with many more mental and physical benefits. So, schedule some services at a local spa and help your friend decompress with a massage or facial. Or create a spa DIY-style with home-made body scrubs and strawberry-cucumber-infused water.
8. Rage against the machine
Remember that scene in Office Space where Peter and his cohorts destroy their work nemesis—the malfunctioning fax machine? Well, now you and your friend can do that too. Known commonly as "rage rooms," these spaces allow guests to basically break things like plates, speakers and monitors to alleviate stress. Want a less violent version? Try rage yoga where you forgo the “om” and instead get to yell, scream and curse while you flow through poses. Because sometimes zen has a dark side.
9. Clean their house
When someone is feeling depressed or going through a difficult period, the simplest tasks can seem impossible to complete. (Think: Cleaning, shopping, doing laundry.) So instead of saying, “if you need anything, let me know,” ask “what can I do?” Or, cut straight to the chase by offering to do a specific thing, like babysit their kids for a night, clean their bathroom or pick up groceries. Although it might not necessarily make them “happy,” it can at least provide some comfort during a trying time, so they don’t feel like they are drowning in to-dos while also dealing with heavy emotions.
10. Do a girls’ night (out or in)
A little makeup and some high heels can go a long way toward improving your BFF’s outlook. So hit up some local hot spots or program your Netflix queue with rom-coms, slather on a face mask and spend the night inside instead. And feel free to invite your buds: Ben and Jerry.
11. Work out together
We’ve all heard that exercise releases those feel-good endorphins, which can, in turn, combat depression. So sign you and your friend up for a fitness class together. Or simply go for a quick walk around the block to get a dose of fresh air, nature and sunshine, which can also boost vitamin D and serotonin levels. According to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry earlier this year, even moving for just a little bit can help with depression. Ideally, we all should do at least 15 minutes a day of higher-intensity exercise such as running or at least an hour of lower-intensity exercise such as walking or housework. But really any little bit is worth the effort.
12. Make them a cup of tea
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that a warm drink such as hot coffee can mimic the comfort of human touch and create those same warm, fuzzy feelings you might get from a hug. Now, we’re not saying you should skip the hug here. But why not follow it up with a cup of Earl Grey or a stop at Starbucks? A cute mug might also coax a smile out of them.
13. Head to happy hour
Did your cubemate totally bomb her presentation or lose a big client? Suggest a round of happy hour drinks at a local bar as a way to show her there’s more to life than work. After all, saying “cheers” has always been a tried-and-true happiness-booster, as long you’re careful not to overdo it since the effects of alcohol (it’s technically classified as a depressant) can actually make a bad mood worse. (Eek.)
14. Volunteer together
It might seem counterintuitive that adding one more task to your to-do list will reduce stress. But that’s actually the case when it comes to volunteering. Several studies, including one published in BMC Public Health, have shown that helping others reduces depressive symptoms, increases well-being and promotes a greater satisfaction with life. Plus it lowers your risk of dying. (So there’s that!) Suggest a session serving up food at a soup kitchen, work together at a local animal shelter, chat with seniors at the nearby retirement home or collect food or clothes for the homeless. All will make you feel warm, fuzzy and like you’re really making a difference.
15. Go to the movies
Sometimes the key to cheering someone up is getting their mind off whatever it is that’s bothering them. Which is why we’re always fans of a Coke, an extra large popcorn and whatever trashy thing is playing at the local multiplex. For those feeling too bummed to venture out of their PJs, offer to watch an old favorite at their place. (You can still bring the popcorn.)
16. Take a class together
Help your buddy redirect her thoughts and energy toward a positive experience by enrolling in a class—whether artistic, cerebral or downright silly. (Pizza-making, anyone?) “Losing ourselves in a pleasurable activity has a calming effect, which strengthens our sense of well-being and feelings of self-worth,” says Dr. Jeff Nalin, founder and executive director of the Paradigm Malibu Treatment Center. A word of advice: Keep the activity small, so that they can feel a sense of accomplishment when it’s over. (In other words, save that novel-writing seminar for another day.)
17. Write them a handwritten note
While sending a quick text or DM is obviously easier, it’s definitely not as personal. Plus, because we’re so used to communicating digitally nowadays, a handwritten note carries a lot more significance and meaning, which can make a person feel extra loved. Not really a “writer”? Sometimes a simple “thinking of you” is enough to put a smile on someone’s face.
18. Tag them in a funny meme
On the flip side, the internet can be dumb, and silly and magical. So feel free to tag your friend in a funny post on Instagram or whatever your social media platform of choice. After all, a well-timed quote or hilarious animal video might be all it takes to lift her spirits.
19. Let them dogsit
Numerous studies have shown that owning a pet can help folks maintain a more positive, optimistic outlook on life, and that petting a dog increases your oxytocin levels while lowering cortisol (the dreaded stress hormone). It’s also been found that bringing dogs to the workplace helps lower stress, improve productivity and promote camaraderie. So, if your friend isn’t a dog or cat mom, lend them your furry friend for the day, or take them to the dog park so they can reap the benefits of other people’s puppy love.
20. Tell them a joke
While you might not have a standup special on Netflix, you probably have at least one corny dad joke in your repertoire that you can pull out in case of emergency. If not, use this one: My dog used to chase people on a bike a lot. It got so bad, finally I had to take his bike away.
21. Create a digital mixtape for them
Inspired by old-school cassette tapes, build your friend their own playlist on a streaming service like Spotify for easy access on a computer or phone any time. Include some feel-good favorites, as well as some tunes that you find particularly inspiring. (No judgment if Eye of the Tiger makes it on.)
22. Pay a Compliment
It seems simple enough, but sometimes we forget how much a heartfelt compliment can mean to someone. One caveat: It has to be genuine. So if you don’t actually love your friend’s new fanny pack, find something else to gush about.
23. Embarrass yourself
During the first Sex and the City movie, after Big leaves her at the altar, Carrie asks, “will I ever laugh again?” And Miranda answers, “yes, when something is really funny.” Soon after that scene, Charlotte “Poughkeepsies” in her pants, after she accidentally drinks the water in Mexico. This causes Carrie to burst into laughter and, well, you get the point. And while we’re not saying you should go out and poop yourself to cheer up your friend (please don’t), you can elicit some giggles by poking fun at yourself in other ways: Wear a ridiculous outfit or finally tell that bartender you think his mustache makes him look like Tom Selleck. Chances are, she’ll get a kick out of it.