Christmas tends to be a happy time for many people.  However, Christmas can also be a time of sadness.  Many of us are at a loss as to how to help someone who is sad.  Do we let them vent?  Give them space? Offer them some chocolate?  Although the best approach varies depending on the people involved, more and more science points to one key action that can make a difference: start a conversation.

Humans are a social species and we use information from others to shape our behaviours.  The key is to use your words and shape the conversation carefully.  Validation phrases such as “I understand why you feel that way” or “That sounds very hard” are found to be very comforting.  Helping someone recognize that things will improve can also help.

On the other hand, telling people that they should not feel so bad typically makes them feel worse. If someone is angry, telling him or her to calm down or to relax just makes him or her angrier.  These words do not work because it implies that their feelings are inappropriate and that they are over-reacting. This will only make the person more emotional.

Another approach that is ineffective is asking people to change their thinking about the problem.  Suggesting that they “try to see both sides of the situation” or “Try to focus on the glass half-full instead of half-empty” does not validate their feelings.

Validating their feelings is important.  When you indicate that, you understand or recognize how they are feeling this provides a feeling of connection, trust, and caring, which is extremely important.

How else can you help?

Help them strategize:

If they are open to it, help them work through a way to overcome the problem.  Make sure you validate their feelings and the trust is established between the two of you before trying to solve the problem.   Do not look for a quick solution to the issue; recognize that the solution may take time. Recognize that you might not have the answers to fix the problem.  Show that you support and care about the person and that there may be a better person to work through the problem.  Help them find the right support they need be it a doctor, councillor, or other professional.