Sadness and Emotional Intelligence

Art Sponseller, JD, PCC, Senior Executive Coach,

Americans feel sadness more often during stressful encounters than people in other countries. This is fascinating and raises the question why. One theory is that Americans are uncomfortable with emotions such as anger and shame whereas sadness is a more acceptable emotion. Another possibility is that sadness increases sensitivity and compassion. 

If you feel sad during challenging situations, it does not mean you are a sad person or that you mope around. It means that you feel this part of yourself when you experience pain or see pain in others. This typically reflects significant losses in your life that remain with you. And because of this connection to past painful experiences, sadness has a sense of helplessness to it.

The benefit of feeling sadness during difficult situations is sensitivity. (Yes, even distressing, draining emotions such as sadness can benefit us.) This sensitivity supports a higher degree of compassion for others – an EQ muscle that improves communication and builds trust. 

Because sadness is a more acceptable emotion some individuals have learned to feel sadness when they are really feeling anger or shame. This might be you if you have not experienced significant losses and you often find yourself feeling sad during stressful situations. If this describes you, ask yourself if shame or anger might be what is really driving your feelings. It will help you to explore how you experience sadness and what triggers it.

The risk of feeling sadness frequently and significantly is energy depletion or even depression. Sadness is the most draining of all the distressing emotions because often it feels uncontrollable, final, permanent. 

You need your EQ muscles to work for you when you are in challenging situations. You can strengthen your EQ muscles when you experience sadness by doing the following exercises. 

1. The key is to heal feelings of loss, and the first step in that journey is accepting and feeling sadness.

  • Allow yourself to notice and name the feeling of sadness
  • Feel it in your body and name how it feels.
  • Express your sadness to yourself and perhaps to others with whom you feel safe.

2. Spend time in natural light. Get outside every day. When indoors sit by windows. When the days are shorter and there is less light, consider a sun lamp. Outdoor exercise will boost / replace some of the energy lost to feeling sad.

3. Channel your sadness into sensitivity/compassion and gather the energy that comes from connecting with others. 

Source: Learning in Action Technologies