Sadness is something we try to avoid because it means that there is something wrong. Maybe something is wrong. Maybe not.
It is natural to feel unhappy occasionally. It’s part of the range of human emotions, and it’s a healthy response to a myriad of circumstances.
Emotions like sadness, grief, frustration, or anger are signals that we have experienced a significant loss, or that it’s time to reevaluate some aspects of our lives. They help us to see and more importantly feel when it’s time to make a new choice. Instead of rejecting these moods, we can use them to shine a light on areas that need attention.
Obstacles and challenges will inevitably find us in life; it’s part and parcel to our growth. Our reactions and perspectives can either make them a friend or an enemy. Ultimately, we choose how to frame what is happening and how we feel about it, which can bring up some heavy emotions. That’s not a bad thing.
A small study from Olin University showed that being comfortable experiencing and expressing mixed emotions was a predictor of improvements in well-being. Paradoxically, ignoring or evading negative feelings was associated with a decline in happiness.
“We found that those participants who were making meaning out of their experiences with a mixture of happiness and sadness actually showed increases in their psychological well-being, compared to people who were just reporting sadness, just reporting happiness, or some other mixture of emotions,” Jonathan Adler, Olin assistant professor of psychology and one of the study’s authors remarked. “It seems that there is something to be gained for your mental health in taking both the good and the bad together.”
Feel the emotions, whatever they may be, without repression.
But, what if you’ve been sad for a really long time?
The danger of being sad for too long is getting stuck there. Prolonged sadness is not healthy on any level. It lowers your immune system’s ability as well as increases the risks of heart attack. When sadness has been the status quo for too long, it’s time to create alternatives to the thoughts that automatically come into your mind when you’re feeling down.
Here are a few tried-and-true ways to help deal with sadness when it arises.
Science suggests that we shouldn’t hold back tears when we feel them start to swell. A study in The Daily Journal found that emotional tears contained all sorts of chemicals that reflexive tears did not. The researchers concluded that emotional tears release chemicals that build up in the body during times of elevated stress. This is why we often feel a sense of relief or release after we cry. So let your tears flow when you need to—and to help you…
Listen to Music
Preferably sad music. This may feel counterintuitive, but listening to sad music when you’re sad helps you to feel your sadness without getting lost in it. As you release the heaviness of this emotion, you release the energy pent up in your body. When we resist our feelings, they get stuck in our physical bodies causing all kinds of ailments from asthma to autoimmune disorders. When you let yourself fully feel it, you not only work to release this energy, but you also get the bonus of getting to see it for what it is: an emotion. It isn’t anything to fear or push away.
Take a Walk Outside
Sunlight cues special areas in our retinas that cue our brain to release serotonin. Stanford researchers recently found that a 90-minute walk in a natural area eased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex; the region of our brain that is active during periods of rumination. As for walking, the repetitive motion of putting one foot in front of the other places your mind in a meditative state, increases feelings of peace. Whether it’s a few minutes sitting in the sunlight, a stroll through nature, or just a walk in your neighborhood getting outside and moving is a way to relieve feelings of sadness.
Psychologists at USC routinely prescribe anxiety patients the act of daily cleaning. Cleaning gives people a sense of mastery over their environment and places their focus back on what they can control. This is echoed in other studies that found women who experienced more depressed moods also had cluttered living spaces while those whose homes felt organized reported having a more restorative attitude. The act of cleaning is also similar to walking in that it puts the mind in a meditative state. The next time you’re feeling down, try washing dishes and bringing your full attention to the scrubbing and rinsing. Once you’re done, you’ll not only feel calmer, but your kitchen will feel better to you as well.
The science supporting human connection as a means for happiness is only growing. The happiest people, in all sorts of studies, are consistently those who report being strongly social, belonging to communities, and have healthy relationships. Those who reported a more self-focused life experienced steadily decreasing periods of happiness over a year. When we’re feeling sad, our impulse can be to retreat but encouraging ourselves to reach out to trusted friends in periods of sadness can be the most potent prescription.
It is okay to be sad. Sadness is an inevitable emotion for human beings. But we are not meant to stay there. Like every other emotion, sadness is a signal that we’re out of alignment with what we want to experience. The kabbalists teach that it is our desire that pushes us to grow. Without our negative emotions, we would never be motivated to increase our desire, we would never grow, and we would live an unchanged life—the very antithesis of a life of purpose.
When sadness arises, don’t resist it. Allow it to flow through you and take action, whether it is one of the above or another that works for you. Remind yourself that this feeling is helping you see where you need to grow and, once you’re feeling better, recommit to that growth. Your periods of sadness will begin to decrease over time, and your happiness will increase exponentially as a result.
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
What helps you when you feel sad? Share in the comments your go-to actions for soothing your negative emotions.