Powerful Ways to Care for Yourself When Sadness Surfaces


Article contribution from Margarita Tartakovsky, MS More articles from Psychcentral.com

Today, the sadness is creeping in. It feels like a darkness washing over you.  Maybe there’s a specific reason you’re upset. Maybe there isn’t (at least not one you can think of right now).

Either way, crying feels like a sneeze or an itch: You have to get it out. You have to scratch it. And the tears pool in your eyes. Your heart hurts. Literally. Your heart literally hurts. Maybe you feel like you can’t breathe.  Or maybe you feel numb. You feel absolutely nothing. Maybe you’re restless and unsure.

When we feel sad, it’s all-too easy to slip into hopelessness, said Deborah Serani, PsyD., a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating mood disorders and has penned three books on depression.

We might say things like “I can’t do this,”  “Why is this happening?” or “This will never get better.”

But you can, and it’s OK, and you will.

Below, Serani shared suggestions for processing and soothing your sadness, and taking compassionate care of yourself so you don’t fall too far.

Sink into the sadness—and then find a solution. Sit with your sadness. Give yourself full permission (and space) to feel whatever feelings arise. Serani noted the importance of feeling your sadness and then moving on. “Whether it’s a few hours or a day, don’t let it linger more than that.”

One powerful way of processing your sadness is through journaling. Write down your feelings. Name them. Write down the sensations swirling through your body. Write down why you’re upset. Write down exactly what’s bothering you. Get it out. Release it.

“Writing your experiences and then closing the book gives you time to problem solve and gain perspective,” Serani said. That is, can you do something about what’s making you sad? What are some effective solutions or alternatives?

You also might find it helpful to engage in activities that help you release your feelings indirectly, especially if you’re not that comfortable with feeling your feelings. Yet. According to Serani, these activities can include: painting, sculpting, scrapbooking, coloring, dancing, playing a sport, or practicing yoga.

Focus on your self-talk. Listen to how you talk to yourself when you’re sad, and turn down the volume on unhelpful thoughts, Serani said. “Throw [the negative thoughts] away,” and replace them with supportive thoughts.

The key, of course, is for these thoughts to ring true to you, versus being empty optimistic affirmations. The key is for them to serve you.

For instance, Serani said, you might automatically think, “I can’t do anything right.” Instead of saying, “Just believe in yourself,” you say: “That’s not true. I am good at _________.”

You also can talk yourself through doing kind things. If you think,”I’m never going to feel better,” you might then say: “Small steps make a big difference. Taking a shower can help me feel better, or I can take a walk. I can meet up with a friend or do something else that I enjoy. ”

Relax your body. Serani suggested closing your eyes; taking in slow, deep breaths; visualizing something pleasant and peaceful; and letting your body rest and refuel.

Satiate your senses. “When we tend to [our senses], we are replenished, nurtured and our mind, body and soul feel revived,” Serani said. She shared these examples: You might listen to soft music; light a candle, sit by an open window, or use aromatherapy; look at nature; take a walk; or eat something that enlivens, comforts or soothes your tastebuds. What tends to appeal to your senses? What calms and uplifts them?

Prioritize laughter. “Laughing is an easy and meaningful way to help move through tough times.  Laughter boosts our immune system, reduces stress and sparks [the] feel-good hormones dopamine and oxytocin, decreases pain and so much more,” Serani said.

And laughter doesn’t have to be spontaneous. Seek out what genuinely makes you giggle. For instance, you might read a funny book or watch funny videos. You might see your favorite comedian or tell silly stories.

It’s vital to feel our sadness. And it’s just as vital to soothe ourselves in healthy, meaningful ways.

In fact, it can help to reflect on what calms, comforts and uplifts you before you feel sad. Create a big list of options. This way when you are feeling sad, you don’t need to think about what to do right then and there.

You can even create a kind of kit with your favorite things. Which might simply be a shoebox or bin that includes a supportive letter to yourself (sounds funny, but it’s helpful); a few vanilla-scented candles; some essential oils; and an inspiring, compassionate book or two.

The most powerful path we can take with sadness is to feel it—to process it fully—and to select a soothing, helpful way to move on.