Sadness is a difficult emotion to experience.
Usually, we ignore it. We pretend it doesn’t exist. We distract ourselves by staying busy. Or we berate ourselves for feeling too sad or not sad enough. We judge ourselves, as if certain situations require certain amounts of sadness — and clearly, we’re coming up short (or long).
We misunderstand our sadness, because we’re so eager to sweep it away or annihilate it.
This is why it’s important to have healthy coping tools at our disposal.
Journaling is one of those tools. It’s a powerful way to process any emotion. It “is a way to get emotions out of our heads so we can see them, and therefore deal with them more clearly,” said Laurie Blackwell, a creative journal guide and teacher.
“Sadness is a lonely feeling,’ she said. Journaling about sadness helps Blackwell feel less alone, because she is sharing her thoughts, even if it’s only with her journal. Ultimately, she is listening to herself. Journaling also helps her get a better, sharper view of a feeling that tends to be shadowy. It helps her create a plan so she’s “in charge, with or without the sadness.”
Below, Blackwell shared how we can use journaling to compassionately cope with sadness. These steps can be done in one sitting or over several days.
- Acknowledge your sadness. Honor it. Let your sadness know that you see it. According to Blackwell, you might write something like: “Hello, sadness. I realize you have come to visit again. How long do you think you’ll be staying?”
- Make a list of “other times you have spent with sadness.” Explore the advantages of sadness, such as getting more rest. Explore sadness in general. “If you could see sadness, what would it look like?”
- List the small things you can do while sadness is here. Maybe you can’t go shopping, but you can take out the trash. Maybe you can’t clean the house, but you can water the plant. This isn’t about avoiding or dismissing your sadness. As Blackwell said, “as long as you have already acknowledged sadness, it is helpful to keep living your life… You don’t want sadness to become perpetual by digging in so deep that life seems overwhelming.”
- Explore the worst-case scenario. Blackwell calls this throwing a pity party for yourself in your journal. This is helpful because “sadness can paralyze us sometimes, and we can lose perspective.” This helps you see that things could be worse. “It gives us a sense of control to know what the rest of the road looks like instead of just imagining a big black hole of possibilities,” she said.
- Explore beyond the sadness. Make a list of activities you’ll do when you’re no longer sad. For instance, you might write that you’ll call your best friend to set up a lunch date. You might write that you’ll reorganize your office or a bookshelf. You might write that you’ll take a painting or photography class. “This gives you something to look forward to, it reinforces the fact that sadness is temporary, and it is a way to continue being the pilot of your life,” Blackwell said.
- Explore the meaningful changes you’ve experienced. For instance, if your relationship ended, you might journal about an insight you’ve gained about yourself, and the type of partner you’d like in the future.
“Journaling gives us a way to record the many facets of our moods and be in control of what we can do while we accept what we don’t have control over,” Blackwell said.
Try these ideas. Keep the techniques that resonate with you. Adapt them to your own style and needs. Either way, whatever you choose to do, whatever your journaling practice turns into, the most important thing is to feel your sadness. To acknowledge its presence. To accept how it shows up and however long it stays.
We are so afraid of falling apart, of letting sadness swim through our bodies, of feeling the sting of fresh tears. Let yourself fall apart. Let the page absorb your pain.