How to Take a Timeout From Your SadnessBecause we could all use a breather.
Before we get into hitting pause on your sads, we should discuss why it’s good to sit with those bummed out feelings when you can. “As the saying goes, ‘the only way out is through,’” says licensed clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, PhD. That means accepting that you feel sad is the first step in getting past whatever is getting you down. “For me…sometimes just saying, ‘I'm feeling sad because a sad thing happened, and I'm allowed to feel that way,’ [has helped],” says therapist Alo Johnston, LMFT.
On top of that, trying to avoid feeling sad so you don’t have to deal, though normal, isn’t actually helpful, says Johnston. When you try to repress your sadness in the moment, it often bubbles up later when you don’t expect it, like in the produce aisle or something, he explains. If you can relate, you know that’s not exactly ideal, but it makes sense—those feelings are going to find a way to be expressed one way or another. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing since processing your emotions—even the not very pleasant ones—can teach you more about yourself, Dr. Howes says.
All that said, sitting with your sadness can be exhausting, time consuming, and emotionally draining. You probably do eventually need to go grocery shopping without crying in the produce aisle. So it’s completely reasonable to want (or need) to take a break from your sadness as it’s playing out—whether you need to pull it together to go to work or you just need to come up for air and a fresh perspective. So, how do you do that without slipping into a cycle of avoiding your feelings entirely? Here are a few expert-backed ways to take a break from being sad without ignoring or downplaying what you’re going through.
1. Get outside.
If you’ve ever stepped outside after spending a good chunk of time wallowing in your bedroom and finally felt like you could exhale, then you can probably relate to the power of a change of scenery. Spending time in a green space, if you have access to it, can be especially beneficial, says psychiatrist and psychotherapist Melissa Shepard, MD. Being in nature has even been shown to increase happiness and bring a sense of purpose to people’s lives, according to a review of research published in Science Advances.
So go for a walk in a park, sit in said park, hike, bike, whatever. When you’re out and about in nature, your mind may start to drift—whether it’s back to your sad feels or something else. You might think about the meal prep you still have to do for the week or some backhanded comment a coworker gave you last Tuesday. But do your best to bring yourself to the present moment and focus on your surroundings to really ground yourself, suggests Dr. Shepard.
2. Talk to someone.
While it can be great to vent to people when you’re feeling all your feelings, it can also be helpful to use your support system for little breaks from your sadness, whether you’re turning to a therapist, family member, or friend. You might get a new perspective on your situation or just some much-needed validation that what you’re feeling is normal. One lesson that Dr. Shepard learned from her experience in medical school and residency was “never worry alone,” she recalls. “And I think that is good advice for any strong emotion. We are social creatures that are meant to rely on each other, and if you can share some of the burden, other people can help you carry it.”
Fun fact: Controlling or stabilizing your emotions (in this case, sadness) with the help of another person is called co-regulation. Whoever your person is, they can actually serve as a source of stability that you can use to help you feel more grounded and present. At the same time, your brain works to mirror how that person is behaving. So talking it out with somebody who’s not outwardly deep in their blues may give you a sense of relief from your sadness.
3. Move your body.
Treating yourself to things that feel physically good can help you care for yourself when you’re in a funk. That can include movement—literally any kind of movement—which therapist Jin Kim, LMFT, suggests big time. Take a 20-minute walk or put on some music and dance it out. Whatever works for you. FWIW, many studies have found a connection between happiness and physical activity.
4. Schedule some joy into your day.
Connecting with your joy offers a nice break when you’re stuck in sadness, says therapist and author Claire Bidwell Smith, LCPC. Even if you’d rather stay in your blanket burrito in bed, try to add in some elements of joy that you may have been denying yourself lately. That might look like watching a funny movie, listening to a podcast that makes you laugh, or settling into a cozy cave of ASMR on repeat. Leaning into joy may be hard for you, but you can always come back to your sadness whenever you’d like, Smith notes.
5. Do the opposite of what your sadness wants you to do.
Because sadness often tells us to isolate and withdraw, doing things that get you out of bed or even out of the house can help, says licensed clinical psychologist Sophia Choukas-Bradley, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. Doing activities that have the opposite vibe of how you’re currently feeling is actually a technique used in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) called opposite action.
Think of it like this: “Opposite action is not about trying to push away negative emotions. It’s about going towards how you wish to feel,” explains social worker and therapist Hayden Dawes, LCSW, LCAS. So try to take a shower, leave your house, dress up, see your friends, or do anything that gives you a sense of purpose.
6. Challenge your brain.
Not to get all philosophical on you, but a lot of therapists think of the human experience in three parts: our emotions, our behaviors, and our thoughts, says Dr. Howes. And when you’re feeling consumed by your emotions, like sadness, turning your attention to what you do or what you think can hit pause on all the things you’re feeling, he explains.
So, tackling an intellectual exercise like solving Wordle, planning your weekly schedule, reading an article or book, or writing a letter to a friend are all good moves here, says Dr. Howes. “Pulling yourself into a productive intellectual project can give you a break while also giving you a sense of accomplishment,” he explains.
7. Write it out, baby!
Grab a journal, pull up the Notes app on your phone, or open a blank doc on your computer. Though it may not seem like a break, writing about your sadness can actually help you feel better, says therapist Lawrence Jackson, PhD, LMFT. Like talking about your sadness, journaling about it can serve as a release. “Externalizing your thoughts provides a bit more distance than just swimming in [your head],” Dawes further explains. That said, if you notice you feel worse after you write, try writing about your goals, happy memories, or good things that happened recently. And if you don’t know where to start, we’ve got a ton of journal prompts for you all geared toward the blues.
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.