What Do We Do When We're Sad?
He looked at me and with a steady voice asked, “Mrs. Jones, how do you feel about your husband doing this heart work and taking a deeper dive on his story?”
“I’m great with it!” I replied.
“Oh really, and why is that?”, he asked.
“Because I want him to feel better. I mean, who wants to be sad?”
And in that instant I knew I had just stepped on my own personal land mine. Sad. A feeling I avoided at any cost. An emotion I equated to weak, wrong, unnecessary and only to be acknowledged momentarily but not deeply felt.
It’s been seven years since that conversation held in a counselor’s office. And I’m actually happy to report that I now know sad. Because of her, I have an even more meaningful understanding of joy. The one emotion I have always prided myself in engaging well. But I had no idea how good she could get until I fully embraced the fullness of sorrow.
So what do we do when we’re sad?
I know what I used to do. I used to work harder to avoid it. I would perform and achieve in attempt to pretend it didn’t exist. I would sometimes feed it. I would indulge in a small pint of Haagen-Dazs to escape the unwanted feelings. I would shop. It was a short lived, quick fix attempt to improve my mood. These are the purchases I would call ‘comfort buys.’ And often these things worked until they didn’t.
So what do I do NOW when I’m sad?
I cry. I grieve. I sit, if only for a moment, and I understand, it’s okay to be sad. Jesus validates sad. He encourages our authenticity. He designed you to even share your sorrows. He modeled this emotion well, for even Jesus wept. And He wept with the knowledge of the good that was to come. But He knew that it was healthy and helpful to experience the deep emotion of lament.
One of the biggest things I have learned since I walked into that counselor’s office seven years ago is that my feelings are warranted. While they can be negative, they are part of life, and they make me human. How I deal with them is usually where the hang up is. Sad is to be soothed not solved. And so it has become part of my own journey and my mission in coaching others to find non-toxic, non-addictive healthy ways to soothe their feelings of sorrow.
It can begin with a simple strategy called stop, challenge and choose.
The stop is important, and maybe the hardest part for me. It’s a pause to actually feel what you’re feeling. It’s the moment you become aware of what’s really going on instead of unintentionally acting your way through by coping.
Now that you have taken a few moments to figure out what’s really going on you can actually decide to move through. This is the challenge. Will you sit in the negative emotion? As scary as it can feel, you won’t get stuck there. In fact, studies show that by accepting them propels you forward and actually creates greater well-being in individuals.
And now you choose. You can take a few moments to think of how you will soothe these feelings instead of escaping, suppressing or bypassing them.
Here are five things I suggest:
1. Be kind to yourself.
The internal dialogue to get over your sadness can be brutal. So simply stating “I’m having a hard time, but I will make it through.” Can be just what your heart and mind need to move through.
You can use this method in many ways. You can list your favorite things. You can practice gratitude. You can express your deep emotion with pen to paper. You can write out a prayer and make requests to God.
3. Listen to music.
Tapping into the senses is always a good idea. So hearing something soothing or spiritual. Perhaps something fun or even a song that takes you to a memory can get you through to the other side.
4. Move Your body.
Getting active is scientifically proven to boost the natural mood enhancers in our brain. So take a walk. Go for a run. At the very least go outside and breathe the fresh air in God’s creation.
5. Phone a friend.
Have one good friend on speed dial. Sometimes the nicest thing you can do for yourself is to just call someone you trust and that cares for you unconditionally to validate all your feels, and then remind you it’s for the good.