You didn’t get that dream job you were manifesting hard. You just scrolled through pics of your friends at a party you definitely weren’t invited to. Your pet, who was like a baby to you, just died. How do any of these scenarios make you feel? Uh, really freaking sad. And if your instinct is to bury that sadness somewhere deep inside and get on with things because it hurts like hell, you wouldn’t be alone. “Most people were not taught how to feel their feelings, so when intense feelings come up, they automatically tend to numb or avoid them,” says Yolanda Renteria, LPC, a psychotherapist and somatic coach in Yuma, AZ, who specializes in healing from trauma.
The advice that you should “feel your feelings” and “sit with your sadness” has been thrown around so often on Armchair Psychology Tok that they’ve started to feel like empty platitudes. But sitting with, acknowledging, and honoring the sadness that you might otherwise be tempted to suppress can keep it from dragging you down to a darker place. “Everyone experiences moments of sadness,” Renteria says. “Sitting with that sadness can be extremely helpful to understand it.”
So, how do you actually sit with your sadness (and how exactly is that different from wallowing in your sorrows)? We asked the experts to explain.
Here’s what “feeling your feelings” even means.
It sounds obvious, but also… not? When experts talk about feeling your feelings, they talk about noticing and acknowledging intense emotional reactions when they bubble up. Renteria says that can include giving a name to those emotions, noticing where you feel them in your body, understanding why they were triggered in the first place, and—this is key—letting them exist without judging them or yourself.
“Sometimes it can mean taking the time to process the feeling and explore the root cause of it. Other times it can be giving yourself permission to feel your emotions instead of trying to push them away,” adds Minaa B., a licensed therapist, social worker, and writer (who is also on Wondermind’s advisory committee).
Feeling your not-so-great feelings (as opposed to ignoring them) is generally a good idea because once we actually notice them, the intensity of the emotion decreases, says Renteria.
Why sitting with sadness helps you—even though it’s hard.
“Our feelings are messengers,” says Minaa B., “which means a story is always attached to why we feel the way that we feel.” So if you’re hella sad, it might be because you’re also feeling abandoned by your friends, rejected by that hiring manager you thought you clicked with, or you’re grieving a loss. We shouldn’t need to say it, but we will—all those and more are majorly valid reasons to feel sad.
What doesn’t work is ignoring your sadness or making yourself too busy to even process it. That will only make you feel worse. “When we don’t pay attention to sadness, it tends to come out in other ways. Maybe irritability, anger, frustration, feeling alone, unloved, or misunderstood,” says Renteria. You could become even sadder, which can spiral into depression. Pretending you aren’t sad will only prolong feelings of grief and can even exacerbate other feelings like anger and rage, all because you are suppressing an important emotion that deserves to be processed, says Minaa B.
Both experts stress that giving your sadness space to exist—and actually feeling it—means allowing yourself to be, well, human. “Acknowledging your sadness also gives space to vulnerability,” says Renteria. When you acknowledge that you’re sad and begin to process what’s behind it, you are more likely to communicate and connect with people about how you really feel (like talking to your friends about how hurt you were and coming to a resolution about it.)
How to actually sit with your sadness.
First, let’s talk about how not to do it. “Sitting in your sadness does not mean sitting in a depressed state that impacts your day-to-day functioning,” cautions Minaa. B. “It shouldn't cause you to experience things like not being able to get out of bed for long periods of time, avoiding tasks, or avoiding places like work or school,” she says. That said, avoiding a place is normal if you experience a traumatic event there.
The best way to sit with your sadness may not involve any actual sitting at all. Minaa B. suggests that you simply be mindful of the sadness while continuing to move forward in your day, and maybe doing something else that feels good for your mind and body. Basically, acknowledge that sadness and do your best not to force a different feeling or judge yourself for it, while also taking that yoga class, knitting, reading, or doing something else that brings you joy. Maybe you even connect with people who lift you up. It’s about letting the sadness exist while simultaneously doing what feels good and gets you through the day.
If you’re struggling with the mindfulness part (it’s legit hard), it can help to approach your sadness from a place of curiosity, not judgment. Renteria suggests doing this by actually asking your sadness questions, like: How long have you been here? What are you trying to tell me? When do you show up the most? Are there other feelings there besides sadness, like disappointment, rejection, feeling left out, abandoned, etc? What do I need most in this moment?
Normalizing and validating your sadness can also be incredibly helpful in reducing any guilt or shame you might feel about it, Renteria says. Thinking (or saying out loud) statements like, Anyone in my situation would feel the same way or It makes sense that I feel this way given what happened, can help you normalize your sadness while you’re sitting with it. “Sometimes we don’t have to understand the sadness,” says Renteria. “We can just know it’s there and let it exist.”
Also super helpful: remembering that your emotions are temporary, and the intensity of emotions like sadness will likely decrease the more you pay attention to them. “On average it takes about 90 seconds to notice the emotion shifting,” Renteria says. So when you’re in the depths of sadness, remind yourself that the intensity will break, and you will start to feel better.
When to hit pause on the feels party.
“In cases where sitting with your sadness results in you spiraling and becoming depressed, I would advise engaging in healthy distractions,” says Minaa. B. Binge a favorite show, call an empathetic friend, or try these very helpful tips for hitting pause on your sadness.
These distractions have a fancy psychological name: pendulation. “When people notice that they spiral in their sadness, it is important to offer the body an opportunity to pendulate, or experience a contrasting emotion to avoid the spiral,” says Renteria, who points out that for people experiencing depression, it’s super important to find activities (connecting with a friend, being in nature, physical movement) that pull them out of that emotional spiral.
If you try to sit with your sadness but start experiencing flashbacks or feel it consuming you, feeling your feelings may be too overwhelming for where you’re at right now. And that’s OK. If that’s you, Renteria says, find a trauma-trained professional that you can talk to. They’ll give you the tools to help you process your intense sadness.
The bottom line: Feeling your feelings—and specifically, sitting with sadness—isn’t easy or even all that intuitive. But once you understand how it works and give it a try, it can pay off. By helping you process your sadness, deepening your understanding of your emotions, lessening any guilt or judgment you might be needlessly putting on yourself, and reinforcing that you’re lucky enough to be a human who gets to feel ALL the feels.
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.