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How to Deal With Sad Feelings

Here are 12 ways to undo, deflate, and reduce sadness to get your life back.

Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay
Source: Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

What is sadness?

Sadness is defined as having grief, sorrow, or unhappiness. Sad feelings are also a part of depression and related to other parts of depression including poor self-worth, poor sleep, and difficulty enjoying things.

Although we can sometimes get caught in our sad feelings, we don't have to. We can undo sadness and start growing our happiness and well-being (take this well-being quiz to start). Here are some ways to deal with sad feelings.

1. Beat rumination

Rumination is when you get stuck in your head, thinking about all the negative stuff that has gone wrong or could go wrong. Rumination is a key feature of depression and contributes to so much unnecessary sad feelings. That's why beating rumination is an important first step to getting through sadness.

To stop the rumination, try engaging your body in some activity that is intense enough that you can't think for a few minutes. For example, you could do sprints or take an ice-cold shower. This shock can stop your brain from cycling and force it to focus on the present moment.

2. Imagine a bright future, not a gloomy future

If something has happened to us to make us sad, we might become sadness-prone—only thinking about the worst things that could happen. It's common because we feel like if we think through these bad outcomes, we can better prepare. But it just makes us feel worse in the long run. Our sadness can snowball into feeling all sorts of other negative emotions.

So try to imagine a brighter future, even if only in an exercise to help your brain break through sad feelings. Here's an exercise to imagine future happiness.

3. Cultivate mindfulness skills

Mindfulness involves self-reflection to gain awareness and acceptance of thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness can undo negative thinking styles that generate excess sadness.

To practice this skill, pause, pay attention to your negative emotions and attempt to approach them with curiosity instead of judgment.

4. Try cognitive reappraisal

Reappraisal is an emotion regulation strategy that we can use to reinterpret a sad situation in a more positive (or less negative) way. Reappraisal is hard for many of us, and if we have a hard time seeing the silver linings, this can contribute to higher levels of sadness and depression.

Luckily, we can get better at reappraisal. We just have to practice thinking about what’s good in the situation. What are you grateful for, how could it have gone worse, or what small things are actually good? By using reappraisal, you can stop sad feelings.

5. Read some books on overcoming sadness

There are so many science-based strategies you can use to undo sadness. By reading self-help books, you can begin to learn and implement these strategies into your life.

So grab some high-quality self-help books or take an online program to boost happiness and learn the skills you need to decrease your sad feelings.

6. Boost your serotonin

Low serotonin is linked to depression. So how might you increase serotonin?

One quick way is to eat carbohydrates. Yeah, it turns out that the warm fuzzy feeling we get when we eat carbs is in part due to the serotonin boost we get from them. Another way to boost serotonin is to (carefully) take 5-HTP supplements, which help increase serotonin in the body. And aerobic exercise, in particular, may contribute to higher levels of serotonin.

7. Eat less sugar

I was super surprised to discover greater sugar intake is linked to higher levels of depression. We already knew sugar we bad for our physical health, but it turns out to be bad for our mental health, too. So try not to consume so much sugar if you're struggling with sad feelings.

8. Don't obsess about your sad feelings

Feeling sad sucks. But we can't allow ourselves to obsess about it. If we focus too much on our lack of happiness and worry about being stuck in sadness, we just make things worse. So try to focus on actions you can take and things you can do to feel better, rather than focusing specifically on your sad feelings.

9. Get a positive emotion boost

Positive emotions broaden our thought processes and build on themselves, creating a lifeline to us when we're stuck in sadness. That’s why doing things to create more positive emotions is so important for reducing our sadness.

There are so many ways to create positive emotions. In many ways, this may be easier than decreasing the negative emotions directly. For example, you can improve your ability to think positively or practice gratitude. You can also do things you enjoy, like spending time with friends, going outside, or reading. Whatever makes you happy, do these things.

10. Outsmart your smartphone

We’re on our phones 24-7. But spending too much time on our phones or the internet is associated with higher levels of depression and loneliness. So you need to learn how to "outsmart your smartphone" and use our phones in ways that increase happiness instead of sadness.

11. Be kind to yourself

Challenging self-critical thoughts and being self-compassionate can help reduce negative emotions like sadness. So if you’re being really hard on yourself, try thinking about your good qualities and strengths.

12. Make a plan

​There are many actions you can take to beat sadness, making a "happiness plan" can be helpful. For example, you could do one new sadness-busting strategy each day. Whatever works for you to ensure you'll do the things that make you feel better is what matters most.


Garnefski, N., et al., Cognitive coping strategies and symptoms of depression and anxiety: a comparison between adolescents and adults. Journal of Adolescence, 2002. 25(6): p. 603-611.

Knüppel, A., et al., Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study. Scientific reports, 2017. 7(1): p. 1-10.

Lopresti, A.L., S.D. Hood, and P.D. Drummond, A review of lifestyle factors that contribute to important pathways associated with major depression: diet, sleep and exercise. Journal of affective disorders, 2013. 148(1): p. 12-27.

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