It’s OK to feel sad


I’ve been putting off writing about the recent tragedies we’ve seen in London and Manchester. Its hard to put your feelings into words. Such senseless loss of lives leaves you questioning everything, angry but with an overwhelming sadness.

In my clinic, I’ve discussed these feelings with a number of people who have been having difficulty processing events. The advice I have found helps the most is simple: it’s OK to be sad.

I think sometimes we forget that negative emotions are normal, whether in response to a larger event or the smaller day-to-day events of our own lives.The reality is that no one feels good every day and we all have our ups and downs. It would be strange to be permanently happy all of the time. Even more so after a tragic event.

Emotions are an important form of communication and help us to evaluate our experiences. We have the full spectrum because they are all necessary and useful to us. For example, anxiety helps us detect threat, disgust to protect us from danger, jealously to protect, guilt to put right a wrong, fear to warn us of a dangerous situation.

Sadness and anger are an important part of life. Research shows that experiencing and accepting these emotions is vital for our mental health. As much as we may want to feel happy all of the time, life isn’t straight forward. Negative emotions are just as crucial as the positive ones in acknowledging what’s happened and making sense of it.

Negative emotions are also beneficial to us. A recent study at the University of New South Wales induced mild positive and negative mood in research participants and monitored their responses. They found that people in a mild negative mood tended to perform better on tasks. Their memory was more accurate and judgement less biased, they also communicated more effectively.

In evolutionary terms, mild sadness functions like an alarm signal to others, so they know we need support. They also subconsciously alert us to pay more attention to the world around us. Making us a little more focused and attentive.

Next time something difficult happens what can you do?

  • It can be helpful to remember that feelings are a bit like clouds, they’re not permanent – they’re around for a while and then pass by.
  • Although we might prefer the ‘good’ feelings, they’re all valid and experiencing the full range of emotions is what makes us human.
  • It’s important to remember when you’re in the darker clouds that how you feel is not how things are (I feel bad, therefore things are bad). We are not our feelings and we have a choice in how we react to them. Work through the negative and bask in the positive.
  • Next time you’re in the darker clouds, remind yourself that it’s not permanent and that the sun can still burst through.
  • Instead of backing away from negative emotions, accept them. Acknowledge how you are feeling without rushing to change your emotional state.
  • If the emotion is overwhelming, you may want to express how you feel by writing it down or talking to a friend or your family. This can help shift your perspective and bring a sense of closure.
  • If the discomfort lingers, consider taking action. For example telling a friend their comment was hurtful or taking steps to make a change. In the case of the Grenfell tower you can donate or support the causes taking action.

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