WHY SADNESS ISN'T YOUR ENEMY: 5 WAYS TO HANDLE FEELING DOWN
As a society we can feel guilty about many things, even in places where guilt shouldn’t be found; sleeping in, skipping the gym, eating a whole pizza, not studying in our free time. These little things are laced with guilt, as though being human and giving ourselves a break is somehow an act of indulging in laziness.
The same can be said for sadness. There’s little compassion for those who need a day off work to nurture their mental health or those who spend the day teary but can’t explain why. They can be ascribed the label of a weakling or attention seeker, which is both inaccurate and damaging.
Sometimes we can feel so sad that it knocks the last breath from our lungs and we’re left wondering when we’re going to stop feeling suffocated by it. We can wake one morning and inexplicably feel the absence of happiness. Without warning a little grey mist wraps its tendrils around our mind, filtering everything through melancholy, and we can’t explain why.
Sadness can also be an organic and identifiable source. This tends to be the type of sadness which allows us social permission to express it, like after some sort of loss. A relationship breakdown, friendship breakup, job redundancy, rejection from a university or a pet’s death etc. - the kind that calls for wishes and flowers to arrive, with each petal acting as a symbol for a person’s condolences.
What is scarcely understood however is the sadness which sidles in seemingly from nowhere. There’s no obvious cause, no apparent reason, and therefore little empathy for it. Feeling low is not commonly treated with compassion, even in a big loss there is an unspoken time frame in which one can grieve before sympathy is withdrawn and your expected to ‘get over’ or ‘move on’ from whatever’s anchored you down.
Well, sadness is not the enemy, it’s a natural emotion. Like hunger, joy and anger, sadness is something we all feel, and it doesn’t care that you’ve been socialised to not feel it. It demands to be felt. You can ignore it, treat it like a child and hope that a blind eye will deter its plea for attention, yet soon you’ll find it doesn’t like being ignored. Then the pulling on your shirt sleeve turns to chatter screams in your head, and sadness must then finally be acknowledged.
Sadness, especially the type which takes hold overnight and blind sides you, is trying to tell you something. You just have to listen and let it be felt, even if it’s the most difficult choice you’ll make all week. Sadness visits every one of us and that melancholy has a message, and so to help you not see it as your enemy, but a friend in disguise, here are five ways to handle those miserable days that just might enlighten you as to why they’re being felt in the first place.
1. Hold sadness’s hand
With the busy lives we’re so accustomed to, we don’t want to sacrifice the little precious free time we have by using it to feel something perceived as detrimental. So we try to suffocate sadness back with distractions until it becomes muted. Perhaps the sadness will fade, but it will come back ten-fold later on, and surprise you. If you wake up feeling sad, then allow yourself to feel it, not supress it. Listen to the slow, powerful music that matches your mood and watch the film that brings tears to your eyes. Let yourself drain the emotion by feeling it. Know that it’s not selfish or weak, it’s brave ad fearless and necessary. It’s present for a reason and by honouring it you might just realise what it’s trying to tell you.
2. Get lost in another world
Read a book or watch your favourite television show, choose a world to get lost in, one that allows you to fall from your life and in to another. This might sound like an attempt to escape sadness, but really it’s to offer yourself a sweet reprieve until you feel more willing and able to confront it. It’s scary allowing your mind to wonder down the path that’s laced with sadness, but it’s one that must be explored so that the meaning behind the emotion can be unveiled. Of course it is frightening, what if turning away from the world in the pages of your book to examine your sadness exposes the loneliness you’ve been trying to bury? Or the friendship that has to come to an end? The reality that you spent four years at university only to find dispassion upon graduation? Yet, as soon as we become aware of, and accept what’s truly upsetting us, the sooner we can decide if we want to change it.
3. Work out
I almost want to punch my own self in the face for drawing the exercise-cures-everything card. The thing is, physically exhausting your body can help because you grow so tired that your mind can no longer dance around distractions. It tells you what’s wrong and communicates the sadness, because it has a way in when your defences are too tired to fight. Exhaustion is a good translator, but exercise is also a way for you to feel better about yourself when you’re feeling miserable. Seemingly random sadness isn’t always just about figuring out the motives, it’s being able to hold yourself with compassion and care while you feel low and vulnerable. Treat yourself like your own best friend, and if exercise is something that makes you feel even mildly good, then that’s one less protective factor for you to seek.
4. Realistic positive thinking
When we feel sad negative thoughts or negative self-talk can begin to control us, drowning out the realistic perceptions of ourselves. Thinking things like “no wonder I have no friends, I feel like crap and I don’t even know why,” “I’m so pathetic,” and “what’s the point in studying, I’m going to fail anyway,” are monsters, a civil war raging in your mind against the positive qualities you know to be true.
5. Nurture kind thoughts
While it can be a struggle to grasp on to your positive qualities when at the time you whole-heartedly don’t believe them, it is important that you try. It is so easy to rip our self-esteem to shreds when the little grey mist infects everything you see, think, feel and do, but just know this filter isn’t accurate. This negative self-talk is fleeting but you’ll float a lot better in the storm if you can nurture the realistic and positive things about yourself.
Remember that time changes everything and sadness is no exception to this rule. Nothing lasts forever and those awful days won’t either. Yet sadness doesn’t intrude on your life without reason, sometimes it just needs to be felt until it drains away instead of being fought off. There might even be a message in there somewhere, if you’re willing to hear it.
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