How To Deal With Sadness
I have this unreal expectation every day is going to be perfect.
I believe I'm going to jolt up on my first alarm and bop through my day unscathed, or I will be free of surprise deadlines or feisty co-workers or creepy subway dudes. I believe things will be sunny and beautiful.
And, sometimes, they will.
Because sometimes, life is so perfect, you can't believe how the stars have aligned. You're so lucky to be with these people, at this place, in this moment.
But there are times when you just feel... well, sad.
In our culture today – where we live and die by our perfectly manicured Instagram feeds – feeling sad doesn't seem to be normal.
We feel like we always have to be on, peppy and smiling... whether we're at work or at brunch.
And frankly, it's exhausting.
Sometimes, you just want to put your headphones on and hide behind your computer, or mope in your apartment.
But you're always met with some form of resistance.
You get bombarded with questions like, "What's wrong? Are you OK?"
Or even worse... “Put a smile on!”
I'm here to tell you you don't need to. It's OK – normal even – to have bad days and be sad.
And when you accept those days — revel in them, even — things start to look a little brighter.
Life is a series of uncontrollable ups and downs, and the most that matters is how you handle them.
I learned this when I navigated my first day of work.
My first job wasn't all rainbows and butterflies.
Transitioning from daily hikes in the New Zealand mountainside to a cubicle in downtown Manhattan was a shock... to say the least. Not long after I entered my self-proclaimed prison cell, I noticed anxiety-ridden panic attacks would strike at random.
One minute, I would feel fine... but the next, I couldn't breathe. This sense of frustration was very different from the anxiety you feel when your plane is delayed, or if you notice your Sweetgreen order didn't go through.
The tightening in my chest would come on quickly and haphazardly. One second, I would be solving an Excel formula.
Then, the next, I would see the past 10 years of my life flash before my eyes, all while working in front of the same computer screen.
It was frightening.
I had never before experienced anxiety, sadness or frustration so blatantly. And it was seemingly out of my control.
After a few weeks of experiencing these deep, deep lows, I knew something had to give. I had to figure out how to crawl my way out of this.
So, I did the opposite of what seems intuitive: Whenever these moments of overwhelming sadness or anxiety came over me, I fully immersed myself in them.
I let myself feel all the feelings.
I didn't try to block them out or push them away. I didn't try to pretend they weren't there.
Instead, I ran into them head on. I embraced my worries, and I lived in the shittiness of the moment.
Most importantly, I accepted what my mind and body were going through.
I gave myself a certain amount of time to dwell in the moment, and I processed my emotions. I went for a walk outside, or maybe I cried in the bathroom.
Sometimes, I sat at my desk and stared ahead at my computer screen... thinking, processing and working through my frustration.
I had never really done this before. Typically, when something had bothered me, I used to convince myself everything was fine.
I was able to figure out a solution, instead of just wallowing in the problem.
But, these feelings — this gunk — would build up over time. And then, bam! A seemingly small issue would make me snap.
Ever get into an argument with your college roommate over dishes in the sink? If so, you know what I'm talking about.
I realized acknowledging that I was feeling something besides happiness or excitement allowed me to move forward, instead of just moving ahead.
I was able to figure out a solution, instead of just wallowing in the problem. My mind was cleared, and instead of freaking out about my boss calling me out in a meeting for the rest of the day, I could approach him about it.
I learned these so-called bad days aren't so bad when you just embrace them.
Those strategies I've acquired during my lowest of lows were essential for me to adjust to adulthood.
Sometimes, there are going to be days when you just feel sad.
Whether it's because you didn't have any change for your laundry machine or whether it's because you sent out a bad email – or even if it's just hormones — shit happens.
Embrace it. Feel it.
Don't just run away.
Avoiding these feelings is the easiest option. But you can't just pretend they're not there: They will surface again.
It's similar to the way in which you approach an oncoming wave in the ocean. You can either proactively dive into it and jump out of the water feeling refreshed, or you can be scared of it. You can run away ... but it never seems to be fast enough.
Somehow, the wave will crash over you, and bring you down with its force.
We can't let our emotions take over our lives like that.
It's scary, but allow yourself to have bad days. They are going to happen, no matter what measures you take to ensure they won't.
Allow yourself to accept and move forward.
I did . In fact, I still do... almost every day.
Because hey: That's life.