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Surprising Ways Being Sad Is Actually Good for You

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Sad depressed black man on a bench in a park
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The Upside of Being Down

In our culture, we tend to emphasize pleasant emotions. "Yes, my hamster died, I lost my job, my best friend isn't speaking to me, and we're in a pandemic, but I'm doing fine!" We just smile and tell the random coworker or coffee shop barista that we're doing great. But perhaps we're doing ourselves and others a disservice by not acknowledging the sadness. That doesn't mean we should drop all our sorrow on the person making the coffee, but being honest about our emotions can help us form a connection with others and move on to happier times. Read on for healthy reasons to feel sad and a couple tips for communicating sadness.


Related: How to Get Free or Cheap Mental Health Care

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It Helps Us Feel Connected

Acknowledging sadness puts us in a place of authenticity, said Alexandra Stockwell, M.D., best-selling author of "Uncompromising Intimacy."

 

"That authenticity paves the way for more nourishing and more connected experiences. It invites emotional intimacy, compassion, and is the antidote to the loneliness that is often experienced with sadness."

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It Prevents Future Pain

Ignoring unpleasant feelings leads to a repeat of those feelings in the future. Acknowledging our emotions helps us get to the other side of them faster. "Folks who actively avoid, detach from, numb out or stuff their emotions are prolonging and worsening the perceived pain and may be at a higher risk for developing clinical depression, anxiety, insomnia and substance abuse disorders," said psychotherapist Haley Neidich.

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Sadness Shows Something We Lost Was Meaningful

It's natural to feel sadness about missing out on an opportunity or the death of a loved one. Those feelings of sadness or disappointment indicate the love or hope you had. The lack of emotions is apathy. Feeling disappointment means you're in touch with your feelings.


Related: How to Prepare for the Loss of a Spouse

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It Helps Set Expectations

Imagine training for a competition and then losing. Hurts, right? Not succeeding in something we invested heavily in can leave us feeling sad, but it also helps us adjust our expectations of what is possible for the next time.

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It Makes Us More Trustworthy

When we're open about our emotions, it means we don't have to fake anything with our loved ones. "We also become trustworthy as partners and friends when we are aware of our emotions and acknowledge them," Stockwell said.

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It Gets Rid of Stress

Human tears contain cortisol, the stress hormone. A theory suggests that crying can feel good because it helps us release that stress from the body. A recent study showed that women, in particular, had lower levels of cortisol after a good cry. The study was not conclusive, but the act of crying might help signal that it's time to go back to the normal state. 


Related: Inexpensive Products to Ease Stress at Home

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It Makes Happy Times Feel Even Better

Feeling bad makes us appreciate the good times. "The extent to which we are willing to feel sadness and anger and other so-called negative emotions is the extent to which we can feel true joy and happiness," Stockwell said. "If we numb out our negative emotions, we become more numb to our positive emotions as well."

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It Can Help Us See What Went Wrong

Sometimes there were signs all along that a situation wasn't right, but we ignored them, hoping something would shift and it would work out as we wanted it to. The emotional response can give us an opportunity to reflect on what was there all along.

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It Makes Us More Accurate in Detecting Deception

Studies show that when people are happy, they are more likely to lean into their biases when judging others. People with negative moods better distinguish between deceptive and truthful suspects.

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It Validates Others' Feelings

Denying unpleasant feelings might make others feel alone in their own feelings. "Focusing only on the positive and sweeping negative experiences and painful emotions under the rug denies people's reality and contributes to a sense of shame and isolation experienced by so many," Neidich said.

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It Helps Us Celebrate Accomplishments

This might take a minute, but when you reflect on the emotions involved in something you didn't get, you can see how far you came. Sure, maybe you didn't get the promotion, but you did expand your skill set and positioned yourself well to move onto the next thing.

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We Can Gain a New Perspective

Once you get over the initial wave of sadness, you might start to see the whole story. Maybe the hiring manager had a couple great candidates and had to make a tough decision. Or if you had made the team, the time commitment would have prevented you from doing something else you love. Looking at it from another angle might help you set a different goal that fits your circumstances better.

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We May Treat Others Better

After we've been knocked around a few times, we look at others differently. People who report having a lower mood showed more empathetic distress when seeing others in pain.

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It Helps Change Our Own Behavior

It's easy to blame someone or something else for our sadness, but sitting with the emotion can help us see our own role in the outcome — and do something else the next time.

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It Can Be Motivating

When we're happy, we feel safe and don't have to try to change anything. Sadness can spur us to put more effort into doing the work it takes to potentially change our circumstances.

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It Can Help Us Move On

Sometimes when you feel sadness over a loss, it helps you look at other opportunities you didn't have when you were in the thick of it. Even as you're sad about one loss, a silver lining might be that you now have time you didn't have before to pursue a new hobby or move to a different location, for example.

 

Related: How a Relationship Can Hurt Your Mental Health

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Share in a Healthy Way

Sharing feelings can take an unhealthy turn if we expect something from the other person. "It is key to share without wanting anyone else to change or do anything differently," Stockwell said. "If we want someone else to feel sad with us or stop what they are doing or otherwise accommodate us when they don't want to, sharing about our sadness can become manipulative."

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Don't Feel You Have to Share

You never have to share your feelings if it doesn't feel good to you. It's perfectly fine to say "I'm having a rough day today" and leave it at that or "I'm not up for talking about it right now, but I appreciate you asking." 

 

"Sometimes saying 'I'm fine' is actually the most loving choice for yourself because setting boundaries is the number one form of self-care," Neidich said. 

 

Related: How to Practice Self-Care While Stuck at Home