That was the voice of my husband this week, asking me to identify something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
“I don’t know. I just feel…worn? Tired? Burdened? I’m not sure. I think I’m fine, but you’re right, something is off.”
Later that night, the feeling became clearer (because that’s what feelings do by the way, they sometimes take a while to come into focus) and I realized what I was actually feeling was sadness. Sad after so many efforts to uplift myself and others. Sad from all the pivoting and positive reframing. Sad from the constant effort it takes to see the silver lining in the poo storm of 2020. Sad because there are — just so many sad things. And, it was finally seeping through.
You see, this way of managing sadness is what a lot of us do. Particularly, what a lot of women do. We feel responsible for the feelings and experiences of people, especially our people. We want them to be comfortable. We want them to be happy. We want the pain in the world to somehow be mitigated by the cushion of our counsel, caring, or casseroles. We want to be their buoy in the storm, remaining afloat with gratitude and positivity. But, we can only be that buoy for so long before we start sinking under the weight of our own need. The need for sadness.
I know that may sound strange, to have a need for sadness, but that’s exactly what it is. There is no way to exist in this life without encountering sadness, and after enough of it, our mind demands that we deal with it. It doesn’t like having stuff in there it has to keep hiding. And so, for the health of our minds, our emotions, our whole person, we have to be willing to open up the door for sadness when it knocks, and let it sit down a while.
So, how do we do this? How do we welcome sadness in a healthy way, believing that it will be helpful rather than fear its takeover? Here’s some ideas that can help…
5 Tips for a Healthy Relationship with Sadness
Confront Stereotypes About Weakness: I know, I know, “crying isn’t weakness.” But, do we really believe this? It’s a fair question to ask. Many of us are entirely comfortable with other people being weepy, but us? We try to hold it together until we simply can’t any longer. It’s worth asking ourselves if we have a little bit of that old stigma still holding us back from experiencing relief from sadness sooner rather than later.
Allow Sadness to Set the Limits: This one may be new. In some instances, it may do the trick to just shed a tear or two. But, in others, those few tears may need to be many but we shut them down. As strange as it sounds, there is something to allowing a moment of grief to be what it needs to be rather than us putting a cap on how long or intense is “acceptable.”
Embrace Sadness as a Rhythm, not a Cure: For people who really try to avoid feeling sad or crying, you are not going to like this one. Life is just sad sometimes. Opening yourself up to sadness once does not cure it once and for all. Sadness is more of a rhythm, part of the natural ebb and flow of life. On any given day, a little (or a lot) of sadness may fall. Allow it to flow in, and then out, just like any other temporary emotion.*
(*Sadness that remains consistent for more than two weeks may be a sign of a more serious concern. Contact your healthcare provider for a consultation if this is the case.)
Let Safe Others Join You: Ah, this is my favorite. As we’ve discussed before, it’s not always safe, practical, or appropriate to just fall apart anywhere sadness may hit you. However, when you are in a safe space, with safe people, sharing sadness can be a true gift. As an example, my kids get to see Mom and Dad shed tears now and again. It’s as simple as tearing up over a movie or as raw as losing a loved one. Showing kids that sadness is normal, and that you do recover, is important. Sadness can feel very vulnerable. So, if you have safe people to share that space with you, it can be very powerful. For a genius description on how to effectively be with people in sadness, see Brene Brown’s clip on empathy here.
Well, there you have it folks. The lady who is usually trying to bring you up is telling you to go ahead and be down. Sadness set aside will always find it’s way to us, so we might as well find a way to coexist. Hello sadness, you are welcome here too.
Extra Resource: Pixar’s “Inside Out” is one of the most important films on emotional health ever made. And, it’s smart, and beautiful, and funny. May this scene where Sadness, not Joy, saves the day be a blessing. (Link below, all rights and credits belong to Pixar.)