By Angela Sutherland
It’s Perinatal Depression & Anxiety Awareness Week, and it’s a topic we feel strongly about cracking open.
It often feels like everyone is on a constant quest for happiness. From laughing yoga to enlightenment and meditation, happiness is a fast-moving, all-consuming trend.
Yet, hidden away in the opposite corner is sadness. Something that people often feel hugely uncomfortable to talk about, despite it being a very valid and perfectly natural emotion. Although our society’s preference is to keep things smooth and Insta-ready, nobody is so singular as to only feel just one socially-acceptable emotion, and you cannot feel happy without feeling sad sometimes.
Motherhood can be a particularly prominent player in the rollercoaster of happy vs sad emotions. Those cherished newborn squishy moments are so often peppered with soul-crushing lows of ‘will they EVER sleep?’ and ‘where did my old self go?’
“You don’t have to be positive all the time. It’s perfectly okay to feel sad, angry, annoyed, frustrated, scared or anxious. Having feelings doesn’t make you a negative person. It makes you human.” ~Lori Deschene, Tiny Buddha
What is sadness?
Life is full of experiences and situations that can make anyone sad – from moving home or suffering an injury, to pressure at work or a loved one being unkind. Rather than something that sticks around, sadness is more of a passing shadow that comes over and departs.
Sadness can often be anger in disguise. So, look at the root of the problem to establish what is making you feel sad. Did you feel you parented badly (which is more a fear of failure), or are you grieving your pre-baby body or life? Once you have identified what is causing the sadness you can recognise and respond.
Let’s be honest
Rather than hide away, find a trusted friend who can understand and help talk you through the problems. It might just need a glass of wine and a friendly hug, it might take some counsel from a healthcare professional. Whichever you choose to lean on, be honest about how you are feeling.
Use it for good
A negative emotion can cause you stop and really think about your life – your goals and your relationships. So, rather than it being a sign that you aren’t coping, it can be an opportunity to come to terms with a situation, adapt, refocus and grow from the experience. Using the negative emotion in this way gives you a chance to process what has happened in whichever way works for you – a family illness might prompt you to make adjustments to your own lifestyle; a job loss might spark some self-evaluation and a career change.
It’s OK to be sad
Acknowledging you are sad and giving yourself space to feel what you are feeling is not a bad thing. Recognising and accepting your emotion is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. Our society always wants us to feel OK and we often want to rush in and fix things. We may even feel guilty for feeling sad when we are living such a blessed first-world existence. But rather than criticise yourself for the negative emotions you are feeling, give yourself a moment explore them. Rather than stifle, allow the sadness to exist and move on. Once sadness has said it’s piece, it’s time for the resilience to kick in.
Build that resilience
Nothing kicks some resilience butt better than finding a few things to be grateful for and standing up to fight another day. So, though it is OK to be sad, don’t let the wallowing consume, and find something to turn it around. Tackle one problem at a time, make a list and begin. Doesn’t matter how small those baby steps are. Let go of the repetitive negative thoughts and replace them with a balanced view on changes and improvements. Take control of your thoughts and you will learn to be more resilient in the face of difficulty. Acknowledging sadness and then knowing how to process that emotion and come out the other side is a critical piece of resilience.
Remember that it’s not forever
Always remember that sadness will ease. Don’t stop doing the little things you enjoy, such as listening to music, or going for a walk, and have confidence that things will improve.
Know the difference
Sadness is part of life’s ups and downs and is usually triggered as a response to an event, experience or situation. We usually feel sad about something specific, therefore our mood lifts again when that something changes, or the hurt fades.
However, depression is a mental illness that affects our lives; where we feel sad about everything. If your sadness or low mood starts to interrupt your life and how you function, then speak to a health professional immediately or reach out to PANDA (Perinatal Depression and Anxiety), beyondblue or SANE Australia.