Instructing people to ‘calm down’ typically has the reverse effect,
so why do we tell people to cheer up?
When we tell people to “cheer up”, “be happy” or “it could always be worse” it enforces the notion that they should not share their negative thoughts with others. While our intentions might be good for someone in a bad head space, this creates more shame and can increase the chance of isolation. There is a chance that this person is attempting to push through their tough time, and your comment could reinforce the idea that they are not doing a well enough job at concealing their emotions. If you want to be supportive, try calling out their courage because talking about negative emotions is difficult. Ask clarifying questions and make character boosting comments and/or check in a few days later.
There are MANY reasons people can suppress emotions and there is usually not one specific reason but rather a series of experiences. Emotion suppression happens when uncomfortable thoughts and feelings are pushed out of the mind. People do this in different ways, from using distraction (i.e., watching Netflix) or numbing (through drugs or alcohol), to over/undereating.
A good rule of thumb for when something is the matter with another person, it is usually better for them to do most of the talking. Sometimes people want an ear to listen and not a solution to a problem. Ensure you are not giving unwanted advice. If you are unsure what someone wants out of an interaction, ask! Try to avoid deflecting the conversation, diminishing their experience, or dismissing their feelings.
If you have ever said one of these things to someone, do not worry. It is more than likely we have all, at some point, told someone, “You’re so _____! How could you be depressed?" The best way to move forward is to accept that you do the best with the information you have at the time and embrace this new knowledge.
Examples of comforting words to say instead of ‘cheer up’:
I love you.
I’m here for you.
Do you need time or space?
Do you need company?
Let it out - don’t bottle it up.
You are not alone.
I am here with you.
Hang in there.
I am so sorry that is happening.
How can I support you?
You are wonderful.
You are amazing.
You are strong.
Calda Clinic. (2022, January 24). The dangers of suppressing emotions. The CALDA Clinic. https://caldaclinic.com/dangers-of-suppressing-emotions/#:~:text=Emotional%20suppression%20happens%20when%20uncomfortable
Chang, S. (2020, March 3). Emotional Intelligence 101: Empathetic responses. Student Services. https://students.ubc.ca/ubclife/emotional-intelligence-101-empathetic-responses
Shellenbarger, S. (2016, August 17). Why You Should Never Tell Someone to Relax. WSJ. https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-you-should-never-tell-someone-to-relax-1471370408