Sadness During the 2020 Holidays: Ways to Cope

Many people identify certain emotions as “good” emotions and others as “bad” emotions. In reality, all emotions are simply information, helping you to understand how you are processing a situation. We categorize emotions this way is because some are more pleasant to feel. Happiness, contentment, and peace are more pleasant, while sadness, anger, and frustration are not as easy to bear. And while the experience of these emotions is different, it is important not to shut out any of your emotions because each one of them is your brain trying to tell you something.

Sadness, in particular, is something that can plague many of us during the holidays. It can be a lot to manage the change in routine, the addition of other people and expectations, along with the changes in eating behaviors and exercise patterns. However, in 2020, these experiences may be even more extreme because the things we have come to expect may or may not happen. Sadness during the 2020 holiday season could extend from the normal holiday experiences, if you had them, or the missing ones, if yours don’t exist this year. In short, the way the world is right now makes our emotional experience complicated, and you may feel that coming through in your emotions.

If you are experiencing sadness this holiday season, I want you to consider what it might mean to welcome or develop a healthy relationship with sadness. It is an emotion that is important and needs its place like all the others. If you are on board for seeing how sadness may be a help to your life, rather than something to reject, consider these tips:

4 Tips for a Healthy Relationship with Sadness

  • Confront Stereotypes About Weakness: We’ve all heard that “crying isn’t weakness” but, do we really believe this. Many of us are okay with others crying, but don’t feel comfortable letting go ourselves. It’s worth asking yourself if you are holding on to any of that stigma about sadness and weakness as you try to develop this new mindset.
  • Allow Sadness to Set the Limits: This may be a new concept, but it can be very effective. In some instances, you may feel better after shedding a tear or two. But, other times it may need to be a good, long cry. As strange as it sounds, there is something to allowing a moment of grief to be what it needs to be rather than us putting a cap on how long or intense is “acceptable.”
  • Embrace Sadness as a Rhythm, not a Cure: For emotionally healthy people, sadness is part of the whole picture of feelings that happen from time to time. They do not see crying once over something as a cure, rather, it is just part of the ebb and flow of life. On any given day, a little (or a lot) of sadness may fall. Allow it to flow in, and then out, just like any other temporary emotion.* (*Sadness that remains consistent for more than two weeks may be a sign of a more serious concern. Contact your healthcare provider for a consultation if this is the case.)
  • Allow Safe Others to Join You: Ah, this is my favorite. It is important to acknowledge that it is not always safe, practical, or appropriate to “fall apart” anywhere sadness may hit you. However, when you are in a safe space, with safe people, sharing sadness can be a true gift. I’m a long ways from college now, a Mom of two young kids and I’ll tell you, my kids get to see Mom and Dad shed tears now and again. It’s as simple as tearing up over a movie or as raw as losing a loved one. Showing people that sadness is normal, and that you do recover, is important. Sadness can feel very vulnerable. So, if you have safe people to share that space with you, it can be very powerful. For a genius description on how to effectively be with people in sadness, see Brene Brown’s clip on empathy here.

As much as we will try to be “up” this holiday season, remember, it’s also okay to be down. Sadness set aside will always find its way to us, so we might as well find a way to coexist. Hello sadness, you are welcome here too.

Extra Resource: Pixar’s “Inside Out” is one of the most important films on emotional health ever made. And, it’s smart, and beautiful, and funny. May this scene where Sadness, not Joy, saves the day be a blessing. (All rights and credits belong to Pixar.)

November 30, 2020. By Anne Rulo, Author, Speaker, Therapist. FB/IG/Twitter @annemrulo

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