ep.021 for when you’re sad

This episode was inspired by an Empowerful Girl from India. Her name is Aadya, and she wanted to know how to feel good when you are sad. Thank you, Aadya. I know asking for help, especially when you’re sad, isn’t easy; it’s a brave thing to do. I appreciate you sending me a message.

A lot of things in life can stir up sad feelings. Maybe you’re not enjoying school, or you missed out on something you wanted to do, your family isn’t getting along, there’s tension with your friends, or you’re struggling with what’s going on in your life. You might even feel like you’re in a dark tunnel or deep hole, and don’t know how to get out.

While experiencing a sad moment, have you ever had someone tell you, “Don’t be sad! It’s okay! Turn that frown upside down! Just be happy!” Did hearing that instantly change your mood from sad to happy? Probably not. While I appreciate that person was trying to help, it didn’t work. That’s because we can’t bypass our feelings. You can’t skip ahead or go around them. As psychologist and author Emily Nagoski explained, “Emotions are tunnels. You have to move all the way through them to get to the light at the end.”

So first, I need you to know:

it’s okay to not be okay sometimes.

You don’t have to be happy all of the time. It’s human to experience a lot of different emotions every day. Sadness happens; no shame there. Everyone finds themselves in a sadness tunnel at some point. I’ve been there plenty, so I get it. Instead of feeling bad about feeling sad, accept it. Give yourself permission to feel sad right now. It’s okay to not be okay.

Once you’ve accepted that, explore why you’re sad. Try to mentally dig to see where your sadness is stemming from: Was it a certain event or a lot of things that piled up over time? Are there other people involved or is it mostly thoughts in your head? Are there big changes happening? And then get curious and go deeper to get to the roots of your feelings: Does your sadness come from feeling loss, overwhelmed, hurt, lonely, afraid, rejected, or helpless?

An exploration technique I find helpful is to write down my feelings. Some call it a brain dump. Don’t worry about flow or structure. Just let it out on paper–not on a phone or a computer; physically write to release your feelings. Decide later what to do with it (save, share, trash); just get it out first.

I’ll be honest, examining your feelings might not feel very good at first. But this discovery and self-awareness is incredibly important. You’re not making a permanent residence in the sadness tunnel; you’re visiting, just passing through the emotion. Sit with that discomfort long enough to learn from it, then you can find your way through this sadness tunnel and make it out on the other end.

Now let’s discuss some more Tools that can help you on your journey.

Reach out. You don’t have to experience this alone. Reach out to someone: a family member, a friend, an adult you trust. Talking about what’s going on may help you feel heard, understood, and not so lonely. Or if you just need company, a hug, or a hand to hold, that’s fine, too. Ask for help. Connect with someone.

Music. I’m a huge fan of feeling with music. Think of a song you like that really connects with your feelings. Either listen intently as it plays or sing along and belt out your emotions. Put it on repeat or listen to a feelings playlist to release some sadness.

Move. However appeals to you, move your body. Take yourself on a walk. Dance to a meaningful song. Run up and down some stairs. Punch a pillow. Do a few yoga poses. Ride your bike. Jumprope. ANYTHING that gets your body moving and blood flowing can help physically release some emotions.

Breathe. I know I’ve talked about it before, that’s how important it is. Breathing can anchor you when you feel like your sadness is spiraling. When so much is out of your control, breathing is something you can control that can help you slow down, relax your body, calm yourself and clear your head.

Cry. There is no shame in crying. Cry as you write, as you listen to music, while you breathe, on your walk, when you’re with someone. Cry as you dig your way through your emotions. Crying is cathartic. It releases stress. It may even help you feel better afterward. So it’s ok; have a good cry.

Gratitude. This isn’t to trivialize your sadness, erase your worries, or make you feel guilty or ungrateful. Practicing gratitude gives us perspective. When we feel bad, it helps us recognize the things that are good in our lives. What’s something you’re grateful for about yourself or your abilities, someone who means a lot to you, something you were able to do, something you have, etc. Try writing down 3-5 things you’re grateful for and why, so you attach meaning to it. Keep doing that for a few days and see how you feel. You can also learn more about Gratitude in ep. 003.

Give service. Doing something kind for someone else can help you feel better. Whether it’s something simple like fixing a toy for your sibling or participating in a service project, turning outward to help someone adjusts our focus, gives us perspective, and helps us feel better. If you aren’t sure how to give service, try a random act of kindness like writing a Thank You note, give someone a high five and tell them they’re awesome, or paint rocks with positive words or pictures and leave them in a park.

Laughter. They say laughter is the best medicine, and there’s science to back it up. Laughter not only improves your mood by releasing endorphins, it reduces stress, relaxes your muscles, and increases overall satisfaction. So spend time with someone who always makes you laugh, watch your favorite funny show, turn on a comical podcast, or revisit some memes or videos that made you bust up in the past.

Nature. Spend some time in nature. Get away from noises and disconnect from screens so you can recharge in a natural setting. Get some fresh air, preferably with sunlight. A park, trail, field, nearby wilderness. Go with a friend or family member so you can share the experience together.

Enjoy. Do an activity you’ve enjoyed before, anything that really makes you feel good. Read, play with animals, build with legos, craft, play a sport, bake, jump on a trampoline, dance, create art, complete a puzzle, play a game with your family — anything! You may start out still sad, but doing something you enjoy can help improve your mood.

It’s okay to not be okay, and there’s lots you can do to help you feel better.

If your sadness lasts a while, I encourage you to talk to an adult you trust so they can help you. It’s not your fault if this sadness tunnel is longer than you thought. You are not alone, and I know there are many people and resources that want to help you get through it. Please reach out.

To help you remember all of this, I created a “For When You’re Sad” poster that you can print out, personalize, and post on your wall where you’ll see it, remember it, practice it, and believe it — that’s the important part.

A few books that illustrate coping with sadness are:
When Sadness is at Your Door by Eva Eland
Sometimes When I’m Sad by Dr. Deborah Serani

And if you’re looking for a book that’s more specific to your sadness, I encourage you to check your local library — there are lots of books that can help with what’s going on.

If you have favorite books or movies to share, or have a topic suggestion, I’d love to hear from you! Send an email (tweens get the OK from your parents) to hello@EmpowerfulGirls.com .

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