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How Not to Be Sad: 9 Tips for Managing the Emotion – Expert Advice
Managing Sadness: 9 Tips from Mental Health Experts
Sadness is a normal human emotion that can be difficult to experience. However, it’s important to remember that it can also help us understand ourselves better. According to experts, the goal shouldn’t be to avoid sadness altogether, but to learn how to manage it.
Deb Dana, a psychotherapist specializing in complex trauma, suggests that the key is to allow yourself to listen to what’s causing your sadness and learn from it. The following strategies can help you tolerate the feeling and avoid getting stuck.
Shift Your Perspective
Steven C. Hayes, a psychology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, suggests that sadness can be a useful emotion that provides important information about what’s happening. Instead of trying to avoid it, try to reframe how you see the situation to make it less distressing.
Practicing mindfulness can help you cope with a range of emotions, including sadness. It involves flexible, voluntary attention to your current situation. A majority of mental health interventions linked to positive outcomes can be described as psychological flexibility and mindfulness.
Try the 3-N Approach
When you feel sad, try the three-step process suggested by Deb Dana: Notice how you’re feeling, Name your emotions, and Normalize sadness by connecting with others.
When you are faced with something that inspires awe, such as a breathtaking view, it can lead to what psychologists call the “shrinking of the self.” This phenomenon, as explained by Kross, is an effective strategy for regulating emotions, particularly when dealing with challenging emotions like sadness.
According to a study published in Emotion in 2022, older adults who participated in weekly “awe walks” reported a decrease in emotional distress. These walks involved exploring new surroundings and experiencing novel and vast environments to tap into their sense of wonder.
Temporal distancing, or adopting a retrospective or prospective point of view, can help reduce negative emotions such as sadness. Research, including a study published in Emotion in 2022, supports the effectiveness of this strategy.
Kross suggests taking a step back and looking to the past to recall how you have dealt with similar situations in the past. Alternatively, looking forward can help you contemplate how you will feel about your circumstances in the future, allowing you to move on with your life.
Take a Break
Kross advises taking a temporary break to regroup when feeling sad. This is not avoidance, as it is important to come back to the emotions to manage them effectively. Distraction can be an effective emotion regulation strategy even when implemented after a sad event.
Taking a break allows the intensity of sadness to subside, providing more perspective when returning to the problem. This advice is supported by research, which suggests that a brief intermission can help to regulate emotions.
Try the 20-Second Rule
To build your capacity to be with sadness, Dana recommends practicing the 20-second rule. This involves turning toward the feeling for 20 seconds and then returning to your day, allowing you to be with sadness over time.
The back-and-forth created by this exercise helps establish a sense of safety in the body and brain, which is foundational to emotional wellness, as suggested by research published in Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience in May 2022.
Find the Bright Spots
According to Dana, in times of deep sadness, it can be beneficial to acknowledge that we all possess the inherent capacity to experience “micro-moments of okay-ness.” To achieve this, she recommends seeking out instances where “something else is present” in addition to the sadness, which she refers to as “bright spots” in her book on emotional regulation, Polyvagal Exercises for Safety and Connection.
Looking for these glimmers of positivity does not imply that the sadness will vanish, as Dana explains, but it does signify that we have the ability to hold both sadness and joy simultaneously.
Hayes explains that since sadness is linked to loss, it can act as a reverse compass that guides us towards what we value. He suggests that this compass can inspire action that enables us to live a more meaningful life in the present moment.
For instance, you may feel saddened by the fact that you can no longer dance, despite your love for it, due to aging. Hayes recommends using the reverse compass technique to undertake actions that honor your passion for dance, such as raising funds for a dance troupe.
The next time you feel sad, consider what it represents and what you care about deeply, and use that as motivation to take the next step in that direction. As Hayes puts it, “If you have the capacity to move your foot one step further in that direction metaphorically, take it.”