English has so many words for being unhappy. It’s not surprising, given how terrible sadness can be—especially over a sustained period of time. We often downplay it, believing that acknowledging it betrays a lack of resilience. Yet unhappiness is both normal and, at its worst, debilitating. It’s important to acknowledge and address it in order to have a fulfilling life.
Here are nine steps that, when you’re experiencing sadness, will help you through it.
1. Ask for help.
If your unhappiness crosses over into illness, see a doctor, counselor, or school nurse. How do you know if it’s an illness? Go here for a self-assessment.
If it’s not an illness, you should still reach out for help and support. Try talking to your friends and family members about how you feel.
2. Record the positives.
Studies have shown that people suffering from depression find it harder to access happy memories. When we’re sad, we can’t simply “think positive”—but we can help our brain by making a habit of recalling positive things.
Take a new notebook. Every day, write down three things that made you happy and one thing that you’re looking forward to tomorrow. Can’t think of anything positive about today? Not even your coffee in the morning? That’s okay. Instead, focus on tomorrow’s positives. Can’t think of anything that you’re looking forward to tomorrow? Schedule something. It can be as small as a longer-than-usual shower, a cup of tea, or listening to your favorite band.
3. Get off the internet.
If you’re feeling sad, the internet can drag you further into despondency. From yourawareness of the time wasted to the FOMO of seeing what other people are doing, it’s a source of self-negativity. I’m not asking you to give it up altogether, but try putting some ground rules in place. In particular:
- Give yourself a daily time limit for non-productive internet browsing.
- It’s okay to check your Facebook, but try placing your News Feed off-limits. That never-ending feed of information is the dementor of the internet; before you know it, thirty minutes have passed and you’ve spent the whole time staring at Facebook drama and food and gym photos.
On the topic of the gym…
4. Get some exercise.
When you’re feeling down, exercising seems like an insurmountable challenge. We all know that it boosts your mood, but where can you possibly get that much energy from? Isn’t it just much easier to sit on the sofa with a blanket?
Well, yes—but that would also be much worse for you. Instead, try breaking exercise down into small steps and focus on one at a time. For example:
- Get exercising clothes and shoes out of your closet.
- Put exercising clothes and shoes on.
- Put together your exercise bag (e.g. water, keys, wallet).
- Close all your windows and lock the door.
- Walk to the gym/park/etc.
Does it seem a bit silly? Just give it a go. You’ll be amazed by how effective it can be.
5. Be creative.
Creativity is an outlet for our emotions, so let’s work on getting something other than negativity out there. Draw something. Write a short story. Do some arts and crafts.
Can’t think of what to draw or make? Pick an item in your room, go to a writing generator online, or make something for a friend and let their style dictate your creation.
6. See people.
It’s hard to socialize when even just smiling requires effort, but seeing friends—or at least talking to them on the phone—will significantly boost your happiness. We’re social creatures and need human interaction (even if you’re an introvert).
If you feel like you can’t cope with your friends or family, pick something a little less intense. Try going to a book club or a dance lesson, where the emphasis is functional rather than social.
7. Help someone else.
Sometimes it’s easier to focus on someone other than ourselves. Help out a friend, volunteer at a soup kitchen or charity shop, or join a program to keep elderly people company.
8. Eat properly.
Making good food may require effort when you’re unhappy, but microwave meals and cereal for dinner will only make you feel worse. Make sure you’re eating lots of fruit and vegetables (necessary for vitamins), carbohydrates (essential for long-term energy), and protein (for strength).
Again, if it’s difficult, break it down into small steps. It might be difficult to make pasta, but it’s easy to chop some vegetables. Once you’ve done that, it’s much easier to boil water for pasta. And so on. Before you know it, you’ll have a delicious, healthy meal.
9. Don’t be fooled by cheap (or even expensive) happiness.
Phrases like “retail therapy” and “comfort eating” exist for a reason: we get a small boost of happiness from a new shirt or a bar of chocolate. Yet this is superficial happiness and isn’t sustainable long term. In fact, the longer you rely on these crutches, the less satisfying they’ll become. Instead, focus on real happiness that can be achieved through the eight steps above.
Sadness isn’t something we should underestimate, particularly when it lasts for a long time. It’s tough to overcome it, but while these nine steps won’t give you a magic fix, they will give you an emotionally healthy lifestyle. Hold on, and know that things ALWAYS get better.
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