Life

How to process sadness in a healthy way, according to a psychologist

Sadness might be a perfectly natural emotion, but rarely do we view it as an important part of our mental repertoire. We speak to an expert to find out how to manage it in a healthy way, and emerge stronger from the process as well as hear from Bryony Gordon on why it’s ok to be sad…

As much as we aspire to be happy in our everyday lives, there’s no getting away from the fact that life has its ups and downs. Our feelings are in a constant state of flux, and just as joy a natural part of the human experience, so is sadness. Whether we’ve said to goodbye to a relationship, or are grieving the loss of a loved one, feeling our mood dip is perfectly normal, even if we don’t desire it.

In a world which constantly promotes positive thinking, however, sadness is frequently portrayed as a problematic emotion. Thanks to these misconceptions, many of us attempt to suppress uncomfortable feelings like shame, anger, loneliness, fear, despair, confusion, believing that we’ll emerge stronger if we stifle our emotions and distract ourselves from the source of pain.

In fact, sadness can actually be a force for good. When processed in a healthy way, it can help us to accept, adapt and grow in ways we previously wouldn’t have imagined, and even help us move forward to more positive emotions. That being said, there’s a fine line between experiencing sadness, and getting consumed by your emotional pain; something mental health advocate Bryony Gordon has learnt to navigate over time and discusses in the below Nobody Told Me… podcast: 

The important thing to remember is that there are a number of ways you can manage your sadness. With that in mind, we spoke to clinical psychologist and psychotherapist at Clinical Partners, Paige Fujiu-Baird, to find out how to do so.  

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“We are born with all emotions, as they are what make us uniquely human. All emotions are created equal, however, due to cultural and societal pressures, we are often taught to avoid and suppress certain feelings. 

“Sadness, like all of our emotions, is healthy and meant to help us better respond to ourselves, others, and the larger world around us. Sadness is the healthy emotional response to pain and/or loss, and it signals a need for care and compassion from yourself and others.”

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“The fear of sadness can motivate us to avoid our emotions so that life may feel more tolerable – even if a bit dull. The problem is that when we suppress “negative” emotions, we can lose touch with other emotions like love, joy, and passion.

“Other times, denied sadness can translate into psychosomatic symptoms such as muscle tension, headaches, insomnia, and mood swings. 

“The goal is not to eradicate uncomfortable feelings, but to develop our capacity to feel. Emotions offer us information to help us survive and thrive. They are simply your mind and body’s way of bringing your attention to something in your environment or life. When we avoid feelings, we often lose touch with our authentic selves. When we feel our emotions to the fullest, our lives feel more valued and have more meaning and purpose.”

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“It’s important to honour all our emotions without judgment on ourselves or labelling emotions as “positive” or “negative”. The more that we embrace and accept all our feelings equally, the more self-aware we become to ourselves and our interactions with others. 

“Sadness indicates and draws others towards us when it is communicated. It is the emotion that can most often produce empathy and care from others. 

“Practicing compassion ultimately means being kind and gentle with yourself. Allowing yourself to feel and accept your feelings, including sadness, without judgement and preconceived notions, and without trying to avoid or suppress them.”

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“Practicing self-care will mean different things to different people but the thing to remember here is there’s no right or wrong answer, it’s about doing what feels right for you and helps you to process your feelings and emotions. 

“Some positive coping strategies that can help us deal with sadness include reading, journaling, speaking to a therapist, calling a trusted friend or family member, exercising, practicing deep breathing techniques and meditation, or simply setting boundaries with your time and saying no to plans – allowing yourself the space to reflect and recharge if that’s what you need. It all feeds in to this wider idea of practicing compassion with yourself.”

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“Oftentimes, equating sadness with depression is a common error when processing emotions. Whereas sadness is a natural emotion that is usually connected with certain experiences of pain or loss, depression is a clinical disorder where one is not simply sad. 

“Depression is not sadness, but often involves a lot of sadness that has not been addressed or expressed and can arise without a clear explanation or result from a non-adaptive reaction to a painful event. 

“Symptoms of clinical depression may include changes in mood, appetite, cognition, feelings of hopelessness and/or helplessness, sleeping too much or too little, worrying, irritability, feeling isolated, and loss of interest in things you once found pleasurable like hobbies or socialising.

“Sadness is often confused with depression, but it is also a symptom, and if not dealt with it can in fact lead to depression. There isn’t always a clear trigger or explanation, but if you are struggling and have experienced any of these symptoms for two weeks or longer, you should seek support through your GP.”

Nobody Told Me… is Stylist’s podcast exploring the personal life lessons of brilliant women in their own words. Season two is brought to you in partnership with Clinique, who for over 50 years have been empowering women through great skin care backed by dermatologist expertise.