Sadness often feels unbearable, and therefore we do everything we can to get rid of it as soon as possible. It means that sometimes we do not appreciate sadness as a necessary emotion. However, it is a natural reaction, emphasizing that we lost something dear to us. Instead of avoiding sadness, acknowledgement and then a change of actions help to overcome it. We talked with psychologist Vaiva Štaraitė about healthy ways to deal with sadness.
Vaiva has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and is further studying individual psychodynamic psychotherapy. She gained experience in various mental health settings, working with people experiencing a psychological crisis, losses, suicidal thoughts, behaviour, and other difficulties. She also volunteered in the suicide prevention helpline Jaunimo Linija and Crisis Centre. Vaiva is especially interested in psychological crises, burnout, relationship difficulties, loneliness, self-awareness, and self-acceptance.
Why did you choose to specialize in this area of work?
I am sincerely interested in people and their unique stories – how they came to the point in their life where they are at right now, what experiences brought them here. But more than that, I value the special connection between the client and me. It is a significant and moving experience to go through the client’s story together, from being there for him/her to considering how to help in the most effective way.
Sadness is a feeling. It is a conscious experience of one of the six basic human emotions. We tend to feel sad when we experience the loss of something or someone important to us. It can be quite difficult and painful to lose a relationship or a job. And at the time of pandemic – our previous normal life: enjoying favourite activities, meeting and hugging friends or family, having the freedom to plan more than a week ahead. It is normal to be sad when we feel lonely or disappointed about something. Usually, if we let ourselves feel sad for a while or talk to someone about it, the feeling does not disturb our everyday lives.
In contrast, depression is a mental disorder that profoundly affects our inner and outer experience of the world – overall ability to function, the way we perceive ourselves, and relationships. Depression goes way beyond sadness. People experiencing depression sometimes may not even feel sad but numb, as if disconnected from themselves. Other times while being depressed, one could feel sadder, angrier, or more irritated than usual. They may isolate or distance themselves from others, feel unable to concentrate, or have difficulty making decisions. Other symptoms of depression include physical and emotional fatigue, inability to enjoy things that used to be enjoyable before, fear of the future, feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt that has no reasonable explanation. It also includes physical symptoms, such as various medically unexplained pains, loss or increase in appetite and weight, insomnia or other sleeping difficulties, weakening or loss of libido. Finally, the thoughts of suicide may occur as a solution to this distressing inner experience.
If a person feels this way for at least two weeks, a good talk with a friend or just resting for a while will not help much. It would be a good idea to book a meeting with a psychotherapist and a psychiatrist. There are effective ways to deal with this complex disorder, but it’s important not to delay getting help for too long.
If we suppress the need to cry during the work meeting but will do so later while talking with a friend, this would most likely be considered socially adaptive emotional-regulatory behaviour. However, if suppressing one’s feelings becomes a constant way of dealing with painful experiences, one may face unpleasant side effects. At best, suppressing feelings prevents us from forming a deeper connection with ourselves and other people. At worst – it increases the risk of various chronic illnesses or even earlier death.
Suppressing any “negative” emotions has both short-term and long-term effects on our mental and physical health. Research shows that it may increase our blood pressure, impair our concentration and memory. In the long-term, suppressing may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, or premature death. As for our mental health, there’s evidence that suppressing emotions does not remove emotional arousal. Even more, it leads to distress and even to an increase in the intensity of emotion. Thus, avoiding the feeling, in the end, might make us even more sad or anxious. As a consequence, it takes a toll on our self-esteem, increasing the risk of substance abuse.
Although suppressing sadness might be an effective and necessary short-term solution to avoid unpleasant social situations, avoiding painful feelings is not worth it in the long run.
When feeling sad, we face the inner need to grieve. It shows how deep we care for others or the world around us and helps us to connect with people. When we feel and express sadness, our brain processes the loss and starts healing our pain. Also, we usually feel empathy towards a person who is feeling down. We wish to help or be there for her/him. It strengthens our relationship and deepens our connection. Sadness guides us through multiple meaningful emotional experiences in life. The only way to make it go away is to experience and feel it fully.
When is it time to worry?
When the feeling of sadness becomes constant or so overwhelming that it starts to impair your daily life, relationships, and/or ability to rest. If you feel like crying almost every day for more than a couple of weeks or on the contrary – experience numbness of all the emotions, anxiety, and when the resources that used to help you to cope with difficult feelings or situations (such as having a good rest or talking to a friend) do not help anymore, it is an important sign to take action and take care of your mental health.
Would you like anything to add?
All of the feelings and emotions we experience are necessary. They give us essential information about how (un)safe, meaningful and profound our experiences are. Without them, we couldn’t survive or live our lives to the fullest.