Earlier this week my brother said to me that he was feeling a bit stressed and was unsure of how to navigate his online schooling. My initial response in my head was “you’re 15, what could you possibly be stressed about?”, and that reminded me of something my mother would say, and how poorly she taught me to navigate my emotions. I’m sure at some point or another you’ve had someone, maybe even a person you respected, downplay or trivialize your feelings. As you got older, you realized how negatively those interactions have affected you and consequently how you deal, acknowledge, and process emotions. Emotions that are viewed as ‘negative’ are some of the hardest ones to navigate, especially when they’ve been shut down our whole lives. The inability to navigate these emotions then results in impairments in our cognitive functions, how we socialize and how we view ourselves.
Range Of Emotions
One of our five core emotions is sadness. We all experience it whether it is triggered by an event, or we just wake up in a ‘bad mood’. Sadness can be defined as the emotional state of unhappiness or sorrowfulness. According to Paul Ekman Group (PEG), sadness can be experienced as emotional states ranging from mild disappointment to extreme despair and anguish. As it is an emotional range, there is no one size fits all for the expression or identification of sadness. Some people may readily be able to acknowledge their emotion, figure out where it is coming from and combat it. Others may not even recognize it as sadness, but rather a mood they can’t shake, or think they’re just apathetic.
PEG states that there are approximately 11 ranges of sadness. From least to most intense, this includes disappointment, discouragement, distraught, resignation, helplessness, misery, despair, grief, sorrow, and anguish. Because sadness is measured on a spectrum, we can’t all be expected to cope with sadness in the same way.
Trauma-Informed Care in Health Sciences speaks on how the display and presentation of sadness differ per person as triggers are received differently for everyone. Multiple people can have the same traumatic experience and how they each respond to it can be vastly different. People are known to deal with trauma based on how they were socialized, the extent of their emotional intelligence, and how apt they are at identifying their emotions. Due to these differences from person to person, the way how we demonstrate sadness will never look the same even when they are based on the same triggers or traumatic experiences.
The timeline for the expression of and how to cope with sadness also looks different for each person, as not everyone is affected in the same way. I believe the 7 stages of grief are a good representation of how people present their sadness, and the fact that there is no particular order for it, tells us that there’s no one way to experience any of these things.
Cope With Sadness, Pros.
Even though it is a difficult emotion to navigate, experiencing sadness may have some benefits to our overall wellbeing. When you tap into all the emotions on your spectrum, it facilitates the development of boundaries, noticing triggers, and building a better relationship with others.
Creating boundaries is a key part of any form of relationship. Maintaining healthy boundaries disallow us from overextending ourselves in relationships, and aids in seeing people for who they are, assigning their roles in our lives accordingly. It may seem selfish to others, but maintaining a stable emotional state is paramount for daily wellbeing.
Identifying Triggers is a tricky slope to navigate. A lot of times because we aren’t in tune with our feelings, we don’t realize when we are being triggered or are projecting our feelings onto others. When we spend the time to sit with our feelings and figure out why we’re feeling them and how to navigate, it aids in interpersonal relations.
Sadness vs Depression
Being unhappy isn’t the same thing as being depressed. Depression can be defined as a psychological disorder that features recurrent, persistent, and intense feelings of sadness and hopelessness that impede daily activities. When you’ve noticed that your sadness has spanned days going on weeks, going on months without a trigger, it may be time to seek a professional opinion. When it is that the sadness persists or reoccurs without a triggering or traumatic event, the possibility exists that it is depression.
Another key way of differentiating between the two is how easily resolved the emotion is. Often a sense of reprieve may occur after crying, venting, or talking our frustrations when a person is sad, and it usually passes with time. When you’re depressed, however, the feeling takes a much longer time to resolve, and it is almost like a constant state of despair. Depression is usually diagnosed based on a list of symptoms, where you must display 6 or more of the symptoms. Some of them (according to the DSM5) are:
- Sleep difficulties
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Poor concentration
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation
Even if you haven’t reached the threshold of depression, if you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms over a prolonged period, it would be advised to seek professional help. I’d like to believe we are moving away from mental health issues being taboo and discriminated against, so there should be no shame attached to seeking help.
Five Ways To Help You Cope With Sadness
Along with personal experience, and some personal research, here are a few coping mechanisms to aid with dealing and combatting periods of sadness:
- Creative Expression – allowing yourself a medium in which you can channel your emotions helps in stabilizing your mood or brings clarity to the situation.
- Acknowledge and identify Your Emotions – often we think it is best to push our negative emotions deep down as to not feel them, but as a former therapist told us “one day the drawer you hide these emotions away in will become full, and start to overflow.” No one is saying to deal with them as they come, sometimes you need to spend some time with your emotions to accurately identify them and your triggers before you start seeking solutions. However, do not ignore them or compartmentalize them. Identifying your emotion is key in establishing good mental health.
- Vent and/or Feel Through Your Emotions – as mentioned above, it’s important to feel through your emotions, and to talk about them as well. Verbalizing what we’re feeling can help to reduce stress and anxiety and helps to declutter your thoughts.
- Get Support – an important facet in every aspect of life. Finding support whether in strangers or in friends and relatives is essential in maintaining your mental health. We weren’t made to navigate life alone. It doesn’t make you weak if you need to rely on someone else sometimes.
- Establish or Reestablish Routines – especially when the sadness is prolonged, it gets very easy to fall out of pre-established routines, but it’s critical that we try to maintain some predictability throughout our days so we can feel like we’re in control of aspects of our lives.
Lean On Kindness
There’s no need to fight these battles on your own, as much as negative emotions can feel isolating, there is at least one other person within a stone’s throw of you who can relate to and help you navigate your emotions. It is imperative that in all things we seek to do what creates and maintains positivity and joy in our lives, with everything going on in the world right now, (I bet living through a global pandemic wasn’t on your bingo card), it’s critical we be kind to ourselves, give ourselves the space to feel and understand our emotions and most importantly love ourselves while we navigate these difficult spaces.
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