How to Deal With Sadness

Two Parts:Learning About Your SadnessMoving Beyond Your Sadness

Sadness often feels unbearable. Most times, people do anything they can to push it out of their lives. This means that sadness is never validated or expressed as a necessary emotion. Actually, sadness is a valuable and natural response to difficult life events and loss. It signals that something has been lost or that you need to make changes to address things that are causing you stress. Don't try to avoid sadness. Instead, acknowledge it and learn to move beyond it.[1]

Part 1
Learning About Your Sadness

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    Understand sadness. Sadness is a natural response to loss, including negative or undesirable outcomes. Loss can include many things such as the death of a loved one or the loss of self-identity or material possessions. Sadness is a normal reaction way to react to the loss.
    • For example, you might feel sad if a good co-worker leaves her job, since you might be losing her friendship too. Another loss leading to sadness could be finding out you did not get into the college you wanted. This could be a sense of loss of the future or desired outcome.[2]
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    Determine your root emotion. Sadness might just be the root emotion of what you're feeling. Root emotion describes the underlying cause of other emotions you're feeling. A common example is the person lashing out in anger, but who is actually dealing with sadness. Other feelings might be blame, shame, jealousy, etc. Often these feelings are determined by the type of loss leading to your sadness.[3]
    • For example, you could blame someone for your loss. You might feel ashamed if you blame yourself. While you're feeling sad, blame or shame are actually the root emotions that you need to work through.
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    Distinguish between sadness and depression. Sadness is not the same as depression, although it may be a symptom of depression. Since the two terms are often incorrectly used, it's important to understand key differences. The following describe the terms and their symptoms:[4][5][6]
    • Depression: This is debilitating and not a normal response to a stressor like sadness. Symptoms are more severe than sadness, and include a complete loss of interest in activities you once found enjoyable, irritability, agitation, lower sex drive, struggles concentrating, changes in sleep patterns, and feeling tired all the time. Depression can last for months.[7] Depression requires treatment, because it will often get worse if left untreated.
    • Sadness: This might last moments, hours, or days. It's a normal response to negative events such as a break up, unemployment, or loss of a loved one. It is okay to feel sad. The goal is to feel and acknowledge your sadness without getting stuck there.
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    Understand the role of grief. Grief, or bereavement, is an intense aspect of loss. It lasts longer than sadness and includes the emotional and cognitive impacts on daily functioning.[8] Grief is a way to deal with loss and adjust to life without whatever you lost. It's different for everyone and often happens before sadness. After a loss, you may move through a variety of stages, such as denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, sadness, or acceptance.[9] People grieve in different ways, so acknowledge what you're feeling as valid responses.
    • Grief is more than just death. People can grieve loss of jobs, loss of material items, loss of sense of self/ identity, or loss of a future.[10]
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    Distinguish between grief and depression. While these can occur together with common symptoms (including, decreased mood, sadness, and avoiding social interactions), there are significant differences. Depression impacts one’s self-esteem and sadness is ongoing. With grief, one doesn't feel worthless or inadequate and the sadness decreases over time. Grief doesn't increase thoughts of suicide, create severe sleep issues, increase agitation, and decrease energy which a common symptoms of depression. Those who are grieving are also able to experience happiness (like thinking positively about the loss) while still grieving, but someone who's depressed has difficulty feeling happy.[11][12]
    • Research shows that individuals with clinical depression before experiencing grief are more likely to show depressive symptoms or more extreme symptoms even after a year of loss. This does not mean a person is suffering from a depressive episode but the experience may be complicated by grief.[13]
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    Realize there are benefits of sadness. While sadness tells us you that you've lost something, it also helps you appreciate the good. Sadness is also a coping mechanism that lets you get support from your community of family and friends. Remember that when someone is sad, family or friends often respond with support and encouragement. Sadness also lets you reevaluated life goals or values to lead to greater enjoyment of life.[14][15][16][17]
    • For example, when you've lost a loved one, you feel sad but also remember the good times you had with the person.

Part 2
Moving Beyond Your Sadness

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    Acknowledge your sadness. Give yourself permission to be sad. Don't feel as though you should just be able to "get over it." This can lead to avoidance of sadness, which can deprive you of other experiences, emotions, and opportunities. For example, if you're afraid of being sad, you might avoid trying out for a part in a play or interviewing for a new job because you might not get it. Remember that sadness has a purpose, to remind you that you've lost something or need to make a change.[18]
    • If you are struggling to let your self be sad try this exercise: write down or say a loud….
      • “ I am sad when………………………. and that is okay.”
      • “ I am allowed to be sad about…….”
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    Respect your feelings. Don't belittle or downplay your feelings or let anyone belittle your feelings for you. Remind yourself that you're allowed to feel sad. Keep this in mind if someone's attempt to comfort you is not really helpful and actually minimizes your feelings.[19][20] Avoid letting someone else tell you how you feel.
    • For example, someone might try to point out the positive of the situation by saying, "Now that you've lost your job, you'll have all this free time." Kindly, but gently correct your friend. You might say, "I know you're trying to make me feel better, but this job was important to me. I need some time to think about what I've lost before I start trying to fill my time."
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    Spend time with friends or people who can relate to your feelings. Call a friend or loved one who you can tell your sad story to. Whether it's just listening to you or talking and distracting you, your friend may be able to help you. When you're with people who you love, they'll try to lift your spirits. It is okay to tell your friend, co-worker, or family member that you are sad and need time to be sad.
    • Although people may have trouble understanding your sadness, your loved ones likely want to help you through it.
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    Express your sadness. Let yourself release your emotions by letting them out. Have you ever had a good cry and felt a lot better afterwards? That's because crying is a physical outlet that allows you to move through emotions. Research suggests that a stress hormone is released through tears.[21] In addition to crying, there are other things you can do to release your sadness. These might include:
    • Listening to sad music: Research shows that sad music might help when feeling sad. It connects you to your feelings, providing an outlet to help process them. If you are not ready to deal with your feelings, music can provide a distraction till you're ready to process and deal with the sadness.[22][23]
    • Storytelling: If your sadness is based in grief or loss, write a story or create piece of art focusing on the details of your loved one. It is helpful to focus on sensory details including what you see, smell, touch, and taste. Then focus on the the feelings when thinking about your loss.[24]
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    Write in a journal. Start each journal entry by writing down 3 words that relate or describe your feelings. End each entry with 3 words describing how you're feeling. Journaling is more than unstructured writing of feelings, thoughts, and consciousness. Plan on writing for a set amount every day. Set a timer and write for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or 15 minutes a day (not exceeding 15 minutes at a time).[25]
    • If you have tried releasing your emotions, but are still feeling sad, there could be a good reason. There may be a situation or internal conflict that you need to work through. Journaling is a good way to document and process these issues.
    • Find a journal or type of journal that fits you. You might choose a physical journal, a digital journal, or pre-printed annual journal that tracks your progress over the year.
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    Process your sadness through organization. People process and understand their feelings in different ways. If you're feeling emotionally overwhelmed, try keeping yourself organized. Write a list of your feelings, memories, creative ideas, dreams, and anything else that helps your process your sadness. At the end of each day, check things off the list. Take a few minutes to write down your experience focusing on hope, pleasure, success, and happiness with your decisions.[26]
    • You can also process and manage your emotions by making a to-do list, calendaring appointments, and planning for the next day.
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    Surround yourself with positive experiences. When you feel sad or overwhelmed by negative emotions, you can forget that you have positive emotions like happy, relaxed, excited, joyous, encouraged, etc. Take a minute to write down and remind yourself of a happy or relaxing memory. Sometimes you just need to remember that you have felt something different to help you feel something positive again.[27]
    • While you can focus on happier memories, you can also spend time in places that are removed from your sadness. Go see a movie or have fun with friends. These can take your mind off your sadness and remind you that you can still enjoy things.


  • Someone experiencing depression can be diagnosed if they meet the criteria for major depression including symptoms, severity, length of suffering, and impact on social functioning. This lets someone experiencing more than “normal” grief seek mental health treatment.[28]

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Categories: Managing Sadness and Nostalgia | Managing Negative Feelings