No one ever has a problem dealing with happiness or feeling good. When joy comes into our life we experience it freely, but when sadness or grief is present, we often struggle with them. This is especially true during the holidays when we are expected to be cheerful and have fun. We live in a culture that tells us to “put on a happy face” and this can make it very difficult to be comfortable with sadness. Yet sadness and grief are a normal part of everyone’s life. Whether they are caused by a major loss such as the death of a loved one, or smaller everyday setbacks, we can learn to live with them with greater ease.
Not only can we become more at ease with these feelings, it is vital to our health and well-being that we handle them in a healthy way. The risks of not dealing effectively with emotions became evident when a neighbor of ours lost his wife to illness several years ago. When I offered my sympathy, he quickly denied that he had any feelings about it. Within a week he had disposed of all of her belongings and basically stated that everything to do with her illness and death were over and done. Not surprisingly, his health has declined steadily since then. He has told me of one complaint after another. At first no cause was found for his symptoms, but as time went on, real physical problems have developed (all of which are known to be stress-related).
Of course, this is an extreme example, but it illustrates the importance of how we deal with our emotions. It’s well worth the effort to explore how you handle these feelings, and learn new skills. This article focuses on how to deal with the emotion of sadness. Part 2 will explore grief, which involves a whole array of emotions and experiences that are caused by a major loss, such as the death of a loved one.
Holistic approaches to health have long realized the role that our emotions play in our health, and modern medicine is now taking this more and more into account. For a healthy emotional life, we need to honor all of our emotions and allow them room for expression. When sadness comes, we need to allow ourselves to feel it fully. It helps to understand that it is a normal, natural reaction to loss, and not an indication that there is something wrong with us.
Any loss can trigger sadness — it might even accompany a beautiful sunset that signals the end of the day. We might not always know what makes us feel sad — it could even be a shift in our body chemistry with its changing hormones, blood sugar levels, etc. It helps to let go of the need to understand all of our emotional reactions or to feel that we have to be able to justify them. What is important is that we not resist or suppress our emotions. Allowed to be present, the emotion will simply “pass through”.
In addition to accepting our sadness as a normal part of life, and allowing it to be present, there are some other ways we can help ourselves through sad times:
1. Share what we are feeling with a trusted friend or family member, in particular someone who can listen without judging us or trying to change us. The simple experience of being “accompanied” with our feelings can be comforting.
2. Take time to do something that is nourishing and soothing to you. Take a leisurely walk, get a massage, curl up with a good book, do gardening or other favorite hobby.
3. Find a way to slow down and relax. This will allow the feelings to be released. Meditate, listen to some relaxing music, do some simple stretches.
4. Write in a journal or diary. When we do this, it feels as if we have an ideal listener with whom we can confide. Expressing and exploring your feelings in this way can bring perspective and comfort.
5. Learn to be your own best friend. Step back and view yourself with compassion and love. Notice if you are judging yourself harshly (“you should be over this by now”), and find sympathy for yourself instead.
When to Get Professional Help
Sadness which is intense and long-lasting may be depression. Depressed individuals tend to feel helpless and hopeless and to blame themselves for having these feelings. If feelings of extreme sadness or despair last for at least two weeks or longer and interfere with activities of daily living — such as working, or even eating and sleeping — it is advisable to seek professional help. If accompanied by thoughts of death or suicide, seek help immediately.