I’ve been feeling a little sad lately and I’m not quite sure why. Maybe it’s the fact that spring is taking its own sweet time about arriving (but let’s face it, this is normal for the Pacific Northwest). Maybe it’s because I was recently sick with the flu and am still recovering (but it’s been two weeks already, isn’t that enough time?). Or it could just be the heaviness of our current political climate. Whatever the reason, I’ve been feeling a little sad lately and I don’t really know what to do.
No one likes to feel sad, and I remind myself that it’s just a normal part of the human experience. At some point in your life, you will most likely feel pretty sad. Often, there’s an obvious reason for this (a loved one dies or you have a health crisis, for example). In these case, it’s important to process the sadness – a professional can help with this. But what to do when you’re just feeling blue and can’t figure out why?
I remind myself that helping others with their difficult issues, including sadness, is my profession and calling, and that I surely can do the same for myself. So how would I support a client in a case like this, a low-grade sadness like I’m experiencing?
One thing I do is to ask a client to think of previous times they’ve been sad and what helped them feel better then. In fact, I usually have them list these ideas down on paper to have on hand during times of sadness. I decide to do the same. I could call a friend or sister, snuggle with my purring cat, or play the piano. I’m remembering now that whenever I get outside, even in bad weather, I feel better. I’m also remembering how much better I feel when I meet a friend in person at a coffee shop. I think I’ll get some coffee dates scheduled as soon as I can. And I can’t forget to put wallowing on my list. I quickly find a piece of paper and write down my ideas.
Often, putting an idea or two into action will be enough to help clients feel better. However, a long-term sadness (greater than two weeks), with lack of enjoyment in previously enjoyed activities, could indicate a depressive episode or a medical condition (such as thyroid disease, hypoglycemia, heart disease or even cancer), and merits a phone call to your doctor or a therapist. I decide to call my doctor in a few weeks if I’m still feeling down, and make a notation on my calendar as a reminder.
I always suggest to my clients that they end their list with the crisis hotline (800-621-4636, or 211 in King County), which is staffed 24 hours and provides immediate help to individuals, families and friends of people in emotional crisis. No matter how sad you are, and especially when in crisis, it always seems to help to connect with a sympathetic person and get support. As well, I tell them to make sure their list is somewhere they can find it when they need it. I decide to keep my list in my top dresser drawer.
I peruse my list and decide to get outside for a walk with my dog. My old dog lifts her head with anticipation and pricks up her ears as I get ready. My heart already feels lighter as I snap on her leash and head out into the pouring rain.