We’ve all been sad at times without knowing the cause. There is no reason to be grieving, at least not that we can identify at the moment. And when we’re not feeling great, we’re worse at figuring this out. Maybe we just want to stop feeling bad.
Why do you grieve for no reason, and what can you do about it? Even when we cannot immediately pinpoint the underlying cause of grief and sadness, we can be sure one is there. We can address this through medicine, psychology, nutrition, and self-care. And at all times, we must keep ourselves safe.
Grief, sadness, and depression are sneaky. They ebb, flow, and overlap. Developing an emotional vocabulary is a good way to begin untangling their dynamics. In this article, we’ll go over all the ways grief may find its way into your life and how you can handle it.
Grief, Sadness, and Depression
For many of us, it can take many years to put names to our feelings. Negative emotions may not have been discussed at all, especially in families that are not even good at expressing positive feelings. So, it can be easy to conflate grief, sadness, and depression.
Grief is closely related to sadness and depression, but it is important to understand some differences:
|Identification||Subjective, related to loss||Subjective, self-identified||Diagnosed with set criteria|
|Duration||Long process but comes in waves or stages||It lasts a few hours or weeks||It lasts more than two weeks|
|Impact||It varies in intensity, allowing people to laugh and function well sometimes, but feel devastated at other times||You still have moments in the day when you feel fine, can laugh, can enjoy music, friends, activities||Affects most areas of your life. Fundamental change in attitude about everything. Lack of interest and pleasure in what you used to enjoy.|
|Beginnings||About loss, often a death (but not necessarily)||Adaptive reaction to a specific event: rejection, break-up, disappointment, etc.||It can be triggered by grief or sadness or many other causes|
Grief and sadness are adaptive: they are natural and healthy responses to situations. They help us adjust to new circumstances without the distortion of denial. If the side-effects slide into symptoms of clinical depression, what was once appropriate grief or sadness is no longer appropriate.
Just Because You Don’t Know the Reason Doesn’t Mean There Isn’t One
Some might say our emotions are nothing but biochemistry and neural connections. How we feel can be subtly or massively affected by nutrition, lifestyle, medications, experiences, and memories. So even if you cannot name obvious reasons to feel grief or sadness, there could easily be underlying factors. Here are some possible causes of feelings of grief, sadness, and depression that you might not know are in play:
Personal Growth Issues
Most of us can’t get very far into adulthood without tripping over an existential crisis (or several). Often this happens as we progress through changes in maturity, education, career, and relationships. Our sense of purpose may evolve, get tossed around, vanish, or pivot. Pressure to meet other’s expectations and needs may also pull us away from our sense of purpose. Sometimes refocusing is the key to feeling better.
As you change, sometimes your family or your circle of friends do not help you along your way toward your new direction. Their understanding of where you are going may be outdated. That can feel lonely, even in a family, a community, or an intimate partnership. You might feel misunderstood, unfulfilled, or out of step. A wise friend or therapist may help you navigate this.
Mental Habits and Neuroplasticity
We are learning more and more about how our thoughts have measurable ramifications in our brains’ neural connections. Repeated mental habits include:
- Negative self-talk
- Dwelling on past
- “If only things were different” regrets or wishes
- Victim mentality (blaming other people and circumstances for every disappointment)
These habits pave synaptic superhighways that keep us stuck in these thought patterns. In this way, unhappiness can be addictive. The good news is that we can reroute those highways by practicing better mental habits. Affirmations aren’t just a superficial New Age gimmick. They can rewire your brain.
Perhaps you have experienced an energy crash after a high sugar or high gluten meal. Nutrition can also have an impact on mood. The emerging fields of Functional Nutrition and Nutritional Psychiatry explore this in-depth, but for a start, you can look here:
- Additives, preservatives and food colorings which are very new in the span of human existence have been shown to affect mood, cognition, attention, and many other functions according to the Feingold Diet.
- Gut health (or the gut microbiome) affects how we absorb nutrition generally and how we produce the neurotransmitter serotonin. This is an example of the gut-brain connection.
- Supplements or menus that supply Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins B-6 and B-12 may be helpful in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.
Naturally, if you are doing “all the wrong things” nutritionally, you may be undermining your mood and mental health without realizing it.
You already know that getting even a little bit of exercise can lift your mood, and the endorphins that come from a substantial workout can work wonders. Decent sleep, which might be hard to get if you are under stress, can also make a world of difference. Exposure to sunlight or a full-spectrum light source can substantially impact, especially for people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Any shift you can make to support your mood will help.
If you have ever lived in a stressful situation, that experience can have a lasting impact on your happiness baseline, especially if you have not processed it sufficiently. Trauma, abuse, living with an addict, or just “garden variety” family dysfunction can stay with you. Talk therapy, support groups, and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) can all help.
Hormones and Mood
Hormonal imbalances can affect many parts of our lives, including mood. Estrogen levels that are too low or too high, or low thyroid, progesterone, or testosterone can affect both men and women, with multiple ramifications including the potential for depression. In addition, women have menstrual, postpartum, and menopausal hormonal changes that anchor specific trouble spots. Fortunately, hormone levels can be tested and re-balanced with supplements if necessary.
What Can I Do About Grieving For No Reason?
Keep yourself safe. First and foremost: If you have any thoughts around self-harm or suicide, get help. Here are some options:
- SAMHSA is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the US Department of Health & Human Services. Visit the SAMHSA website or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
- Visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Visit the National Helpline Database for multiple support options for specialized situations.
- Call 911
- Visit the Emergency Room
Let yourself be sad: Disney’s Inside Out (2015) lesson was that we could not thrive if we suppress negative emotions. Learning this kind of self-acceptance without wallowing in sadness is lifelong balancing practice.
Practice resilience: We all need skills to cope with stress, accept disappointment and loss, and continue to function and thrive. We have to discover how to accept situations and our reactions to them while avoiding getting stuck. Bouncing back from setbacks is a life skill – and life will give us plenty of opportunities to practice.
Double Down on Self-Care: It is all too easy to let self-care habits fall by the wayside when you are sad or grieving. But this is the time you need them the most. Remind yourself about what works for you, perhaps from this list:
- Spend time in sunlight or with a light box
- Do some gardening, yardwork, or indoor plant care
- Contact friends and family who really “see” you, who will affirm your purpose
- Take a social media vacation, including newsfeeds
- Do something nice for someone else: volunteer or commit random acts of kindness
- Get a change of scene, spend time in nature, or even just look at images of nature
- Get the right amount of sleep (enough but not too much)
- Review your nutrition, supplements, and medications
- Do something creative: writing, drawing, dancing, sewing, knitting, music
- Enjoy the creativity of others: read, watch a movie, listen to music
- Write in a journal: expose and disrupt negative thought patterns
- Renew your spiritual practice
- Refine your life purpose, perhaps with these tools: Jack Canfield, Jessica DW Ikagai exercise, Very Well Mind, Psychology Today
- Explore CBT and other ways of getting new thought patterns
- Exercise, perhaps by walking (at home or outside), yoga, resistance training
Trust that your low feelings are not permanent. You will feel better. And that will happen faster if you accept your feelings, dive into self-care, and, if you need it, get outside help. This is the essential practice of resilience that will help you thrive over your lifetime. You can do it!