This past week I found myself weepier than usual.
I found my patience wearing thin and I felt more tired. Things I would normally let go of, seemed to be magnified. There was something amiss, and for a few days I couldn’t figure out what it was.
Then I went to see “The Descendants”—a gem of a film, which I highly recommend. The story deals with anticipatory grief and loss, and struck close to home. It brought to light why I was down.
My son, who passed away in 1998, would have been 18 on Feb. 21. If he were still with us, next month, he would have completed high school. It’s a landmark year of sorts, letting emotions rise, unsettling my equilibrium this time of the year, and manifesting in my weepiness.
Over the last few days I’ve been wanting to alternately hide in a cave, drown myself in work, or hit the gym until I drop. Somehow, I’ve managed to find a balance by throwing in trips to the spa, watching action and romantic comedies, and just being kinder to myself.
Psychotherapist Bobbi Emel, who writes the Bounce Blog, gives the following tips for whenever people find ourselves in a funk.
One, we need to remember that emotions are often short-lived and transitory. The blues do not last forever and the funk you are in can just be a phase.
However, sitting with sadness is very important. Introspection, inner work must be done so you can find out what’s causing the blues. “The examined life is so worth living!” a poster outside the Ateneo’s Philosophy department read. I passed it on the day I was feeling down. Socrates was certainly spot on. Examine, confront and act on it.
Second, Emel suggests that we think about our experience in the present—in the moment—rather than fall prey to words like “always” and “forever.” No emotion lasts forever unless you have something that can be found in DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), and even then, all is not lost, because in addition to talk therapy, there is now a wide array of medicines to help address profound sadness (like depression), or other mental issues.
Not everyone who experiences sadness from time to time is depressed. In my case, my son’s upcoming birthday was a grief trigger. Knowing that, I’ve given myself permission to allow the ups and downs of my emotions until his landmark birthday passes. After that, I know in my heart I’ll be all right again.
Being aware of what’s going on inside helps keep your emotions in check. Rather than lash out at your nearest and dearest or rant and rave about insignificant issues, which many people who are in denial often do, you can opt to leave the room, run around the block, or do whatever it is that will get your boat to float.
Third, Emel says, “Take a deep breath and tolerate the painful emotion, holding on to the certainty that it won’t last forever.”
What I’ve found helpful is to go on a long hike by myself or attend dance class. Deep breathing, like the kind you do in yoga, always has a magical way of alleviating pain, making you aware that whatever it is, this is just for the moment. Hold it, then release.
Dance class has the same effect. After an hour of sweating to Beyoncé, Maroon 5, Nikki Minaj or whatever else is on the instructor’s playlist, I find that my blues have melted away. Movement in any form—walking, running, dancing—helps release toxins by increasing your happy hormones.
Next, allow yourself to be really present and notice when your emotions change. When I shut other things out and focus on the task on hand, my emotions are able to rise to the surface. I was eating my salad and talking about my son casually to a colleague at work when all of a sudden I began to feel a lump in my throat and my eyes began to blur. Emel says that sometimes the difference is subtle, but once you begin to see the transition, you become more confident that your pain will eventually change, too. Emotions all have their own season, they come and go.
During difficult periods, do something nice for yourself. It can be as simple as an extra half hour in the bath, sleeping in for a few hours, a massage, indulging in dessert, a trip to the salon, or okay, some degree of retail therapy. Whatever you do, just don’t go overboard and binge. Remember, everything nice, kind and ideally healthy, in moderation is perfectly all right.
Lastly, keep in mind four important words and believe in their promise—“This, too, shall pass.” At the end of a long and difficult day, let this be your prayer, that no matter how sad you might be, it will pass, and the morning will bring not just the light, but the chance for you to start anew.
E-mail [email protected] Follow her @cathybabao.