“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it – always.”- Mahatma Gandhi
Sadness is an emotional experience that is inherent to life itself. While sadness is often labeled as an unpleasant emotion, it is important to remember that there is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” emotion. In fact, we don’t even have direct control over the emotions that we experience. What we do have is indirect control over our emotions… by choosing to engage in certain thoughts and behaviors, we are able to indirectly influence our emotional states. Sometimes we may find ourselves lost in negative thoughts and behaviors, yet wonder why our negative emotions do not lift. At other times we may simply bask in the emotion of happiness, without realizing that we are choosing thoughts and behaviors that are enabling the emotion of happiness to occur.
When sadness becomes debilitating, prolonged, or overwhelming, it is time to mindfully notice the impact that sadness is having on your life. Take a moment to reflect on what the emotion of sadness feels like for you in particular contexts. For example, notice the difference between sadness over feeling lonely versus sadness over the death of a loved one. All emotions can be experienced along a continuum of varying intensity and duration. By increasing mindful awareness of how you typically experience an emotion such as sadness, you will become more adept at noticing your personal warning signs or cues that indicate sadness.
While no emotions are inherently “right” or “wrong,” there is a difference between healthy and unhealthy expressions of emotions. Even though you may not have direct control over your emotional experience, you retain the ability to choose how you wish to respond to that emotion. For example, it is up to you whether or not you will engage in ruminative thinking or behaviors that prolong an emotion that is getting in the way of living a vibrant and meaningful life. Just as you have the power to prolong and intensify emotions, you also have the power to learn how to cope with emotions and respond to them more effectively.
Coping Skills to Release Sadness
As you read through the following coping skills to release sadness and maintain well-being, notice which strategies for dealing with sadness have been helpful for you in the past and what skills you are willing to implement in the present and future.
(1) Reflect on current coping strategies
How do you usually respond to sadness? Try to pause and remember times in your life when you have felt sadness and notice what thoughts and behaviors you have chosen to practice. Perhaps you notice a tendency to socially isolate yourself during times of sadness or engage in some form of self-sabotaging behaviors. Or maybe you have a proclivity to reach out to friends and loved ones for social support. The idea is to allow yourself to observe your current coping strategies in a mindfully nonjudgmental and curious manner. Notice patterns and themes as you piece together how you typically cope with sadness.
Crying is a natural bodily expression and release of emotions. Notice your own tendencies and patterns when it comes to expressing sadness through tears. Do you notice a proclivity to hold back your tears, to express them only in solitude, or to allow them to flow freely? Try not to judge your own experiences when it comes to crying; simply notice your patterns and ask yourself if you are willing to allow yourself to release sadness in a healthy way through your tears.
(3) Investigate What Sadness Means to You
It is not uncommon to become so out of touch with our internal emotional experience, that we no longer even know what we are feeling. Perhaps you’ve learned to become numb to intense emotions or to simply go through the motions without allowing yourself to feel. Try writing in your journal about what sadness means to you and what the experience feels like. For example, consider completing sentences such as, “I usually feel sad when…” or “I can tell I am feeling sad when…” The idea is to get in touch with a deeper understanding of what sadness feels like for you, so that you can become more skillful in identifying and responding to sadness in healthy ways in the future.
(4) Release Sadness through Writing
Once you have spent time writing about what sadness means to you, allow yourself to take the experience of writing in your journal one step deeper. Try listening to soothing music, centering yourself in a peaceful environment, and writing a descriptive journal entry directed toward releasing sadness. Perhaps this means reflecting on a time of intense sadness from the past that has been keeping you stuck in some way. Direct your mindful intention as you write toward releasing the sadness through acceptance and letting go, as opposed to sinking deeper into the emotion. Notice any hidden lessons that you have learned from that time of sadness and how you can build a more purposeful and vibrant life as a result. Once you mindfully accept the sadness and release it, it has no more power over you. Let it go.
(5) Create a Poem or Drawing
Many people derive great benefits from channeling emotional energy into creative outlets as a form of release. Try writing a poem or creating art that is focused on viewing the sadness as separate from your true self. In other words, this creative release of sadness involves externalizing the sadness. Rather than remaining stuck in a pattern of thinking, “I am sad,” you are making the choice to notice that, “I am experiencing sadness.” It is not a part of your identity, but merely a transitory aspect of your experience. It does not define you any more than you will allow. Through the creation of a poem or drawing, you can practice creating an image of what sadness would look like if it were personified into its own entity. Perhaps you release your sadness through a poem that is surrounded by colors and images that represent the emotion of sadness. Notice any differences that you feel as a result of actively placing sadness outside of yourself and viewing it with greater mindful awareness.
If you find yourself in the midst of a period of sadness that is causing you unnecessary suffering, step back and recognize this. If you are tired of that unnecessary suffering, ask yourself if you are willing to take proactive steps toward releasing the sadness. Once sadness has provided you with useful emotional information and has been experienced and expressed in healthy ways, it is time to actively release the sadness from your present moment experience.
Some people are more skilled than others at identifying, managing, and responding to emotions than others… this is the foundation of emotional intelligence. The good news is that no matter how well you have handled sadness in the past or in this very moment, you can learn to cope with and release sadness more effectively. The choice to actively release unhealthy or stale sadness can allow you to maintain well-being and increase confidence in your ability to manage emotions in the future.
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I look forward to exploring five more coping skills to release sadness and maintain well-being in my next post, “Coping Skills to Release Sadness – Part Two.”
Tartakovsky, M. (2012). 10 Ways To Cope With Sadness. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 22, 2012, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/2012/06/10-ways-to-cope-with-sadness/
Featured image: Sadness by jerryfergusonphotography / CC BY 2.0