What follows is the research about SADNESS I pulled together for JOY IS NOW Episode 68 with SAMANTHA RUBLE.
Many years ago when I was in private practice, I shared a sentiment that proved to be extremely effective in helping my patients gain perspective. And it was this, “it would be weird if you weren’t.”
I discovered after working with patients of all ages and varied concerns that a lot of the time, we equate normal with only feeling happy. And that’s just not the case. Normal, if there even is such a one dimensional thing, actually consists of a multitude of emotions. Healthy, from a psychological perspective means we are impacted by our internal and external life and consequently, we feel things. Things that we like and things that we don’t. And truth be told, it would feel weird if we didn’t.
And that’s the case when I set out for research on SADNESS for this episode. Currently, researchers are beginning to roll out conclusions from data collected over the past two years regarding the emotional impact of the pandemic. And findings suggest that sadness is an expected response. Along with grief, trauma, fear, and all the things really. Wherever we were on our internal emotional spectrum prior to the pandemic, all of our systems are under more stress now then they were before. It would be weird if they weren’t. Imagine going through the past months and not feeling things more intensely? It’s hard to imagine.
Sadness, often confused with grief and depression, and while it is a symptom of both, sadness is actually its own thing. And it is totally normal for sadness to be a part of our everyday lives right now. Life was hard before the current shit storm and yeah, it’s harder now and sadness can come along with that.
An incredible multidisciplinary paper headed by Juan Arias looks at sadness from a multitude of perspectives and I pulled much of the research for this episode from this incredible paper - there’s a link in the episode notes, it’s super dense, but I hope you’ll give it a read.
As outlined in the paper, SADNESS actually has a somewhat standardized set of physical characteristics dating back to early human history. Raised inner eyebrows, lowered corners of the mouth, reduced walking speed, and slumped posture are coupled with physiological changes like heart rate and skin conductance. Sadness accompanied by crying exhibits an increased heart rate and skin conductance while sadness without crying exhibits a slowed heart rate, reduced skin conductance and increased breathing.
Sadness is often described as psychological pain, paired with feelings of loneliness, distress, and anxiety. But it’s not all bad. Feelings of sadness can sometimes lead to pleasant states, like how listening to a sad song can bring about feelings of awe, aesthetic pleasure and longing, combined with sadness. Feeling sad can have benefits, like increased empathy and ability to connect with others in deep and meaningful ways.
What separates sadness from depression or other depressive states is that sadness is transient and triggered directly by an adverse event, like an argument, unmet expectations, or even losing a game or doing poorly on an exam. Sadness usually subsides in an hour, or over a few days and does not cause other feelings and states such as guilt, suicidal ideation, fatigue and changes in eating and sleeping, and cognitive impairment. Sadness is more fleeting and can pass via a big cry, sharing our feelings with others, or getting outside for a walk or a social activity.
When it comes to what sadness looks like from a neuropsychological perspective, sadness activates several areas of the brain. It is associated with increased activity of the right occipital lobe, the left insula, the left thalamus, the amygdala and the hippocampus. Involvement in the hippocampus is interesting because the hippocampus is strongly linked with memory, leading us to conclude that sadness involves awareness of certain memories which might be painful.
Know that if you are feeling sad right now, that’s to be expected. So cry it out, a show of hands who does that in the shower? How about the car? As long as it is not crossing over into significantly impacting your everyday life. In that case, tell someone you trust, and seek the help of a friendly professional.