The Upside to Feeling Down

Written by Francine Baffa, LICSW, BCBA-D
Edited by Joe DeNoon


“Melancholy is the happiness of being sad.” 
― Victor Hugo


We have all heard the expressions: “Good Vibes Only”, “Think Positive”, and “Be Happy”. It was refreshing to read the recent blog posted by S. Wall that brought to our attention the toxicity of always seeking positivity.  

As a therapist, I have long believed that suffering, loss, and pain are not feelings simply to be medicated or avoided.  Instead, we can strive to process and absorb them. Despite the messages we may receive, it is important to experience your painful feelings. Feeling sorrow, fear, and grief at times is not only normal and okay, but necessary to experience, so they can be released.  The full spectrum of emotions must be felt; it is virtually impossible to embrace elation without knowing disappointment—a titular paradox that there is no happiness without sadness.

Melancholy is a species of sadness that arises when one is open to the fact that life can be inherently challenging, and that suffering and disappointment are core parts of universal experience.  Feeling down at times is not a disorder that needs to be cured.

Modern society tends to emphasize buoyancy and cheerfulness, but we must admit that reality is in part about pain and loss. The good life is not one immune to sadness, but one in which this emotion contributes to our development and growth. 

As humans we were born with the ability to feel the whole range of our emotions from elation to despair.  Figuring out how to do this in a healthy way is an important part of growing into a mature adult. How do we deal with both melancholy and joy? How do we straddle these in a way that feels genuine and true to ourselves?

Although this journey is not always paved with ease, there is a round map. We can follow a guide to help us identify and walk through these feelings in a way that is both productive and nurturing. 

The first step in experiencing painful feelings is to notice what is going on inside of you. Identify what it is you are feeling by naming it and locating where it resides in your body.  Ask yourself directly: “Is it disappointment, grief, fear, loneliness, rejection, shame, or another feeling?” Brene Brown, in her most recent book, reminds us that there are 88 human emotions, and the name we give to them dictates how they are interpreted physiologically and mentally. Our bodies react differently if we term our state stress or overwhelmed; being precise in this diction is key.  If it is fear you identify, notice what other feelings are underneath that fear.  Do you feel lonely or abandoned?  Pay attention to what is going on inside your body.  Are there areas of tension, pain, or other sensations?  These sensations are where the feelings live in your body.  

The next step is to find a safe way to express the feelings.  Healthy ways to release your feelings are by:

    • Talk about your feelings with a trusted friend or therapist
    • Use self-dialogue that is compassionate
    • Recognize your triggers:
      People, situations, and places often hold strong associations. If you find yourself feeling emotionally blocked when it comes to certain triggers, it may be worth avoiding them when possible.
    • Limit your distractions:Cell phones, television, music, or video games hold many people’s attention hostage. Once you turn off the noise, you will be better able to tap into your inner feelings and express them outward.
    • Write in the form of journaling or poetry:
      Regardless of your skills, writing is an effective way to express emotions and communicate with others.
    • Practice Acceptance:Try to accept those aspects of your life that are out of your control. Doing so will make you feel better while freeing up your mind to become more emotionally expressive.
    • Be Grateful
    • Explore a novel interest:
      Getting out of your comfort zone often leads to greater emotional expression and wellbeing.

Hiding your emotions limits the honesty of your communication. Being in touch with yourself allows you to be in better touch with others. Hold the space for the full spectrum of feelings.

5 thoughts on “The Upside to Feeling Down”

  1. Thank you so much for this! I just watched the 2nd episode of Atlas of the Heart in which Brene discusses stress vs. overwhelm. Separating the two emotions was so powerful-I have been ruminating on it for the past week-and then this morning am blessed with the reinforcement of this posting! Even when things are really challenging in life, it is “winks” like this that remind me that I am seen, I am held, I am supported. And that helps get me through those times of melancholy, stress, overwhelm and doubt.
    Thank you again for sharing and for this “I got you” wink 😉❤️

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