How Leaning Into Sadness Can Actually Reduce Our Stress

In our quest for happiness, we’re missing out on the benefits of — occasionally — embracing sadness.

Sasin Paraksa/Shutterstock
Sasin Paraksa/Shutterstock

From smiling emojis to song lyrics telling us “don’t worry, be happy,” we’re conditioned to think that we should constantly feel happy or joyful, and that not smiling or looking happy brings down everyone around us. Of course it’s fantastic to be content, but our obsession with happiness has left little room for other completely healthy and normal human emotions — like sadness.

Given this push for constant happiness, when we’re feeling sad it can seem as though we’ve failed at being happy or are doing something wrong — turning that sadness into an additional source of stress.But in reality, being sad often just means that we’re taking the time to process something — which can actually help reduce stress in the long run. Here are three other surprising ways that leaning into sadness can help us feel less stressed.

Acceptance boosts your well-being

Pretending or forcing ourselves to be happy when we’re not is counterproductive and uses up a lot of mental energy. Taking the time to accept negative emotions like sadness, however, benefits your mental wellness in the long run. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that participants who tried to avoid negative feelings were more likely to experience distress, compared with subjects who embraced negative feelings.

“It turns out that how we approach our own negative emotional reactions is really important for our overall well-being,” Brett Ford, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and co-author of the study said in a statement. “People who accept these emotions without judging or trying to change them are able to cope with their stress more successfully.”

It makes us better at teamwork and relating to each other

At times when we feel sad, we may actually be more likely to connect with others. Although some people do retreat into themselves and disconnect in their sadness, many others feel promoted to reach out to their networks more than ever for support.

If you’re feeling sad along with a group of other people — like the way a town feels after a natural disaster, or an extended family does after a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer — the shared experience of sadness increases levels of cooperation, a study published in the journal Psychological Science found. When people take the time to grieve and process how they’re feeling — whether collectively or individually — it helps them understand and relate to each other on deeper levels.

It could lead to deep relaxation

Though you probably don’t associate sadness and relaxation, there is a very real connection, according to psychiatrist Grant Hilary Brenner, M.D. In Psychology Today, he writes about why there’s more to the relationship than you think. He acknowledges that it may be difficult to get to a place where we’re able to fully embrace sadness and everything that comes with it, but once we stop blocking out those feelings, it can result in relief, relaxation, and a potential reduction in stress.

“When we are ready, the relief is considerable from no longer having to burn constant fuel fighting back feelings,” Brenner writes. “Even when we suppress sadness as second nature, it is a huge energy sink. Deception in some ways drains more mental energy than do things that feel true.”

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