One quality admired in people is a sense of self-mastery – the ability to withstand the emotional storms that blow into our lives. The contrast to self-mastery in the words of Hamlet is becoming “passion’s slave.”
If our passions run our lives, we are taken out of the driver’s seat and left to blow any which way in the winds of change. The goal with “emotion” is find balance between the extremes of emotional suppression and emotional excess. A life without passion would be a dull wasteland of numbness and gray.
What does balanced emotion look and feel like?
- It involves having appropriate feelings proportionate to the circumstance (Aristotle).
Keeping our distressing emotions in check and avoiding the extremes is the key to emotional well-being. There are a whole host of emotions we could talk about including anger, anxiety, happiness, sadness, to name a few but let`s focus for the remainder of this piece on sadness.
Sadness is one of the most common realities for those going through a health crisis, injury, disappointment, death, or a traumatic event of any kind. Sadness has been a close traveling companion of mine throughout this recovery journey and learning to dance with her has taken up considerable time and trouble.
Not all sadness is negative but kept in check, can serve a real purpose when it’s “appropriate” and in “proportion to the circumstances”.
When there is a loss, sadness is appropriate to…
- keep us from being distracted by unnecessary diversions
- help fix our minds and focus on what’s been lost
- sap our energy for starting new projects or endeavors
- force us to go into a “reflective retreat” mode so we mourn our loss, mull over the meaning and eventually accept the loss and start to plan for a new future
Bereavement is useful, full-blown depression is not (Daniel Goleman).
You know when sadness has slipped over into depression when you experience symptoms such as (William Styron in Emotional Intelligence):
- A sense of worthlessness
- A sense of dread
- Stifling anxiety
- Inability to focus
- Loss of memory
The kind of sadness I’m talking about here is the milder form we can diagnose and treat on our own or with some help from friends and counselors. If your symptoms are more extreme, it’s best to seek further professional help.
Sadness during a long season of adversity comes and goes without warning so be prepared. Preparation can help prevent appropriate sadness from taking a nose dive into depression and stifling anxiety.
Some strategies to help get you unstuck when sadness grip starts to hold on just a bit too long:
1. Challenge the thoughts that are at the root of your sadness
- Look for the thoughts labeled “stinkin’ thinkin’” and counter them with positive alternatives
- Write out positive affirmations and phrases that reinforce who you “truly” are and are becoming
2. Engage in purposeful activities and events
- Visit with a friend
- Watch or participate in a sporting event
- Watch a movie or TV show that entertains or adds value (but avoid too much TV which can only feed depression)
- Play with a child
- Plant a garden
- Walk your dog
For more on emotional health, check out my previous post entitled “Emotional Self-Awareness”.
What do you do when sadness becomes inappropriate and you find yourself slipping into unhealthy depression?
When else do you find yourself becoming “passion’s slave?”
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