You've been first in line for those door-buster holiday sales, and you've gotten Fido his photo with Santa. But your friend is suffering from a shrinking budget and an expanding waistline, and you're determined to rescue her from the holiday blues. Whatever you do, warns Menninger Clinic senior psychologist Jon Allen, avoid what he calls "the J-word," as in "Just cheer up," "Just get out more" and that tempting yuletide bromide, "Just get into the holiday spirit."

"It's hurtful because it minimizes the challenge in doing whatever follows the J-word," says Allen, who points to a mental-health Catch-22: "What follows the 'just' are all the things depressed people can't do easily at all."

Don't Just Do It What makes "just" a four-letter word? Naomi Baron, a linguist at American University, explains that here it means "only" or "no more," suggesting that no action other than the given advice is necessary and that nothing more needs to be said. It's a conversation stopper.

Allen probes deeper. Sometimes, he notes, we hope to help by emphasizing that feeling better might not be so tough. More likely, though, we are wading into our own river of denial, minimizing a loved one's unhappiness to ease our sympathy pains.

Blues Busters Of course, you don't have to "just" stand by in the face of sorrow. Invite your friend out for a low-stress activity, like a walk or a movie, suggests Allen, but skip fiercely festive gatherings likely to highlight her sadness. Certainly caution against the season's pitfalls of staying up late and drinking, both of which feed depression, and watch out for signs of a more serious mood change, like difficulty eating or concentrating. Above all, offer companionship and an acknowledgment of the sadness. And if the J-word bubbles up, consider strapping on the spangly muzzle you've got gift-wrapped for Fido.

-- Stacy Weiner