How to be happy during sad times

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How to be happy during sad times

“People are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”– Abraham Lincoln

What is Character?

Character is defined in the midst of adversity and setbacks. It takes no special skill or discipline to enjoy life when things are going well. When you consciously make an effort to pay attention on what makes you happy and use the power of focus as a platform to meet and overcome your challenges; you will be successful in doing just that – being happy and peaceful.

You can easily empower yourself and others to be happy in the midst of life’s tough stuff – from unemployment and relationship issues to life threatening diagnoses and tragedies. I have asked thousands of people what they do to be happy and to find peace in the wake of chaos and calamity. Below are 8 of the most popular tips people have shared with me.

1. Focus on what you have; not what you lack

Most people tend to focus on what is wrong with their lives; not what is going right. Be grateful for all you have in pursuit of all that you wish to accomplish or overcome.

2. Hang out with upbeat and fun-loving people

Your environment determines who you are and who you become. If you spend time with negative people, you’ll become a negative person so when you spend time with positive and optimistic people, you’ll be positive and optimistic, no matter what you have to face.

3. Slow down and just “be”

Most people are NOT human beings; they are human doings. A Zen expression says:

“If you don’t go within; you’ll go without.” Slow down, meditate, or just find time to relax; especially in the midst of adversity. Stop doing… and just “be.”

4. Join a group of like-minded people… and play!

Do you play cards, swim, do yoga, pilates, bike rides, read, play chess, garden, cook, play golf or shuffle board, walk, or ceramics? Go out and play!

5. Do something nice for a stranger

When you tell a stranger she looks nice or he does a good job cleaning tables in the food court, not only will they feel great, you’ll feel greater. When you pay compliments to others on a regular basis, you will get more joy and peace in your life. Remember, what goes around comes around.

6. Set one exciting goal every day

Whether your goal is to enjoy some ice cream, take a brisk walk, catch-up with someone you haven’t spoken to recently, or just read a good book – set one simple goal a day that is exclusively for you and your well-being.

7. Learn something new everyday

Children are the happiest beings in the world. Ever wonder why? Simply because they are always learning and creating. When you stop learning, you stop growing and when you stop growing, happiness is nearly unattainable.

8. Don’t judge

Evaluate and observe – yes. Judge – no, never. Set expectations and goals for yourself, and live up to them. When you judge others (and yourself) negatively, resentment, anger, and destructive emotions run rampant – and happiness and peace-of-mind are impossible.

How to be happy during sad times

If you’re having a hard time feeling happy or finding happiness, that’s to be expected. Indeed, many of us are experiencing feelings of sadness and anxiety. There’s a lot going on, and you might find yourself being sad or anxious on any given day. At the same time, it’s important each of us find some period of happiness or enjoyment on most, if not all days.

Being happy can make us smile and laugh, which can relieve anxiety and stress. When you smile, it effects areas of the brain associated with positive emotion. In addition, laughing releases endorphins, which can result in pleasurable feelings. Being happy also relieves our mind from other things going on in our lives. Even if just temporary.

How to be happy during sad times

Finding Happiness

Finding happiness can be a challenge right now and telling you to look on the positive side of things can seem tedious. But even in the worst of times, there are always good things happening in the world. The excitement of new babies being born, people falling in love and even graduations from school are still happening. There are also lots of stories of comfort and inspiration happening with communities rallying to help their members and support for healthcare workers around the world.

However, it’s not so much about finding happiness as it is creating situations that are enjoyable, even if it’s simple pleasures. It’s also doesn’t mean being happy there’s a pandemic going on. But finding enough enjoyment that can help you maintain your physical and mental well-being.

And what will make you happy depends on your situation. You may have lost your job or are struggling with kids at home. Perhaps you miss going to the gym or the social contact of the office. In each of these, you still may be able to find some happiness or enjoyment.

Out of these situations you may find you’re enjoying not having to commute to work, spending time with your family or diving into a new exercise routine. For those who do need to go to work, the commute time is much shorter. And if you’re an introvert, you may be enjoying this time of solitude.

In some cases, you may need to plan time to do something you enjoy. While planning happiness might seem odd, these are odd times. It may be chatting with friends, going for a walk or getting some quiet time to do a puzzle or read a book. Build it into your routine and stay committed to having that time to do something enjoyable.

How to be happy during sad times

Good Often Comes from Bad

In general, humans lean to the side of optimism. Sure, we may know people who are pessimistic, and maybe you find yourself looking on the negative side of things a lot of times, but we often find the positives in the end. If we didn’t, it would make it really hard to persevere through times of challenge and hardship.

From a societal level, good things often come from bad. Adversity brings with it innovation. Just as the pace of advancement and the standard of living accelerated out of the World Wars, some industries are benefiting through re-evaluation of their work processes. We’re seeing health researchers working to find a vaccine on a level we’ve never seen before. There are also healthcare changes that will benefit us for years to come.

Cities are closing streets to cars to provide more space for pedestrians and cyclists. Restaurants are expanding their patios for more costumers during the summer. Across the world, levels of pollution are down. In smog-filled cities, people are seeing blue sky for the first time in their life. And many people are hoping some of these changes will continue.

How to be happy during sad times

Don’t Feel Guilty for being Happy

You might be asking yourself, “how can I be happy when others are suffering and there’s so much loss?” That’s a valid question. You might feel that being happy is a luxury you don’t have or it’s being disrespectful to those who are struggling. Perhaps you feel society expects all of us to feel sad.

If you find yourself questioning whether you should be feeling happy, you’re not alone. Feeling guilty as a result of being happy is nothing new, or unusual. Even outside of times like the current pandemic, we downplay our happiness.

But being happy doesn’t mean you’re celebrating the pandemic or minimizing other people’s challenges. The two are unrelated. Your feelings are just that. Yours. They are real and can’t be argued by anyone else.

In times like now, it’s especially important to experience joy and happiness. Unfortunately, the pandemic isn’t going to be over soon, and being happy is a gift that can help us cope. It can also help and encourage others. And right now, we could all use a bit more happiness in our days.

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We spend so much of our waking lives avoiding death—in more ways than one. When it comes to talking about the inevitable, it isn’t always easy. So the Orange Dot is aiming to shine a light on these stories, in hopes that it may help others. The After Series features essays from people around the world who’ve experienced loss and want to share what comes after.

When I boarded a plane from the U.S. to Italy earlier this year, I tried to figure out how to avoid small talk with the stranger sitting next to me.

“Are you traveling for business or pleasure?” I imagined him asking.

“Neither,” I would say. “My father just died.”

My dad had passed away in an accident while traveling in Italy with my mom, and I booked a flight there as quickly as possible. The news was fresh, and I didn’t feel like I could discuss it without crying.

Not that crying in front of a stranger has to be a bad thing—he could have been a grief counselor or had his own story of grief to share. A 2014 study found that talking with strangers can increase people’s happiness. But I’m guessing the study participants did not unload serious news on the person they had just met. And at that moment on the plane, I wasn’t in the mood to talk.

When I put on my headphones and scrolled through the entertainment options on the screen in front of me, I realized I was actually excited at the chance to watch a movie that didn’t feature animated characters or dogs dressed like astronauts. It was the first time I had been on an overseas flight in years, and there was something nice about the moment—being buffered from my day-to-day life in the muffled darkness of the plane.

In the past, I would have felt guilty about seeing any positive side to my awful situation, but I had recently learned about the concept of holding opposing feelings at the same time. It can be hard to not be weighed down by one emotion—particularly a negative one—but feelings can be layered with contradictions. We can be both angry and happy, both sad and relieved, or both frustrated and grateful. I had heard about the idea in an interview with writer Cheryl Strayed, and it helped me manage my grief in the immediate aftermath of my father’s death.

So on that plane, I found a movie, pushed “play,” and settled in for the ride.

When I arrived in Tuscany, it was hard not to notice the beauty of my surroundings—rolling hills covered with vineyards and dotted with tall, thin cypress trees. The small town we stayed in had shops filled with local cheeses and olive oils and stone walls with blooming honeysuckles spilling over them. The picturesque environment made focusing on the moment easier at times, even if those moments were both good and bad.

My two sisters had arrived before me to meet my mom and help make arrangements for my father’s body and the return trip home. Even though the circumstances were bad, we wouldn’t have normally had a chance to spend that amount of time together because of our commitments at home, and I was grateful for the present—even with a painful absence. I recognized that there were simple pleasures, like a plate of freshly made gnocchi, even if the meal was accompanied by tears.

When I returned home, I found that my kids also brought me back into the moment more. It was challenging to deal with my own grief while also dealing with the day-to-day requirements of managing small children, and part of me thought it would have been easier if I could just be alone. But kids make regular practice of living in the moment, and when I found my thoughts running away from me, I could focus on a tiny smile or belly laugh in front of me.

I have found this practice of not pushing aside difficult moments, but being open to both joy and pain at the same time a helpful thought process in many situations. When dealing with tough times, negative feelings can often be all-consuming, so I’ve started to look for whatever small shimmers of light I can find.

Submissions for The After Series are now closed. We continue to explore and discuss mental health (and everything else that occurs around life and death) on The Orange Dot.

How to be happy during sad times

Americans are the unhappiest they’ve been in 50 years, according to the COVID Response Tracking Study, conducted in late-May by NORC at the University of Chicago. Only 14% of respondents said they were very happy, down 31% from the same period in 2018.

During such painful times, the idea of cultivating personal happiness might seem trivial — selfish, even — but it might just be more important now than ever before.

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“All of this negative energy taxes the mind, body and spirit,” says Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and author of “Joy From Fear: Create The Life Of Your Dreams By Making Fear Your Friend.” “As such, it’s vital to intentionally counteract this toxic, fearful energy with a conscientious investment in creating happiness.”

How to be happy during sad times

‘Happiness Lab’ professor Laurie Santos shares 5 ways to feel better

Laurie Santos, a professor of psychology at Yale University who teaches the class “The Science of Well-Being” (an online version is presently free on Coursera), argues the importance of cultivating happiness for its potential health benefits alone. “There’s evidence that positive moods can boost our immune system and can protect us from respiratory viruses, so it’s not something to feel guilty about; it’s a smart strategy just like washing our hands.”


Health & Wellness Marriage can be lonely: Why it happens and what to do

But how does one actually boost happiness during a global pandemic? It’s certainly not as simple or tactile as washing one’s hands — but there are actions we can take to manifest joy. Here’s what experts recommend:

Double down on physical self-care — especially exercise. Gretchen Rubin, author of numerous books including “The Happiness Project” and host of the weekly podcast “Happier with Gretchen Rubin,” says that the first step in boosting happiness is to take care of your body. “Your physical experience will always influence your emotional experience,” she says. “And exercise is the magical elixir of life.” Even light yoga or taking a quick walk can do the trick, Manly says, adding: “Research shows that a mere 12 minute walk is sufficient to create an upbeat, happy mood.”

Meditate. “You’ll actually foster inner joy by slowing to meditate for even five minutes at a time,” says Manly. “Meditation increases feel-good neurochemicals, as it reduces stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.”

Improve sleep hygiene. A good night’s sleep is hard to come by when you’re self-quarantined in a global pandemic, but rest is crucial to both physical and mental wellness. Take extra measures to at least try to regulate your sleep. “I recommend setting an alarm to go to bed, just as you set one to wake up in the morning,” says Rubin.

Connect with other people. “Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree that connecting with people is truly important,” Rubin says, adding that even if we’re alone in quarantine, we mustn’t deprive ourselves of social interaction. “We’re fortunate that we have so much technology we can use to connect with people who aren’t nearby. Now’s also the time to look out for our loved ones who may not know how to use these technologies. Make sure they’re not left out or isolated.”

Make your bed and declutter your space. “A lot of people feel more inner calm and happiness when their outer surroundings are more clutter-free,” says Rubin, who wrote the book, “Outer Order, Inner Calm.” “Decluttering can be difficult now, with more people home and a heavier load on your household, but whatever you can do can help give you a sense of control over your life. Making your bed, for instance, actually can make you feel better.”

Experience nature — even if that’s just looking at a photo. We may have to work a bit harder to access nature right now, with many county and state parks closed, but if you can put that extra effort in, you’ll likely be happy you did. “Exposure to natural environments has been linked with better general health and less stress,” says Allison Buskirk-Cohen, associate professor and chair of the psychology department at Delaware Valley University. “Studies have shown that natural environments are associated with lower brain activity in the frontal lobes and low frequency brainwaves. In other words, our brains relax more. For those who are unable to get outside, there’s also some research indicating that looking at photographs of natural environments (like pictures of the beach or the mountains) can have similar effects.”

Try our 6 tips to help you be happier, more in control, and able to cope better with life’s ups and downs.

You may also be interested in our selection of mental health apps and tools in the NHS Apps Library.

Manage your stress levels

If you have a lot of stress in your life, find ways to reduce it, such as learning a few time-management techniques.

Introduce regular exercise and time to yourself. These are positive changes. Taking control of your time in this way can effectively reduce stress.

If you have feelings of anxiety along with your stress, breathing techniques can help. Try this breathing exercise for stress.

Enjoy yourself

Doing things that you enjoy is good for your emotional wellbeing.

Simple activities like watching sports with a friend, having a soak in the bath or meeting up with friends for coffee can all improve your day.

Doing something you’re good at, such as cooking or dancing, is a good way to enjoy yourself and have a sense of achievement.

Try to avoid things that seem enjoyable at the time but make you feel worse afterwards, such as drinking too much alcohol or eating junk food.

Boost your self-esteem

Self-esteem is the way you feel about yourself.

The best way to improve your self-esteem is to treat yourself as you’d treat a valued friend, in a positive but honest way.

Notice when you’re putting yourself down, such as thinking, “You’re so stupid for not getting that job”, and instead think, “Would I say that to my best friend?”. You probably wouldn’t.

Tell yourself something positive instead, such as: “You’re a bright person, you’ll get the next job”.

Have a healthy lifestyle

Limit your alcohol intake

When times are hard, it’s tempting to drink alcohol because it “numbs” painful feelings.

But it can exaggerate some feelings and make you feel angry or aggressive. It can also make you feel more depressed.

Read more about the effects of alcohol on your health and get simple tips to help you cut down.

Choose a well-balanced diet

Making healthy choices about your diet can make you feel emotionally stronger. You’re doing something positive for yourself, which lifts your self-esteem.

A good diet helps your brain and body work efficiently, too. Aim to have a balanced diet that includes all the main food groups.

Do some exercise

Even moderate exercise releases chemicals in your brain that lift your mood.

It can help you sleep better, have more energy and keep your heart healthy.

Choose an exercise that you enjoy. If it helps, do it with a friend or listen to music. Adults should aim for 150 minutes a week.

Get enough sleep

Around 7 to 8 hours is the average amount of sleep an adult needs for their body and mind to fully rest.

Writing a “to do” list for the next day before bed can organise your thoughts and clear your mind of any distractions.

Talk and share

Communication is important, whether it’s with a friend, family member or counsellor.

Talking things through helps you to release tension, rather than keeping it inside. It helps strengthen your relationships and connect with people.

Lots of people find talking to a counsellor about things that are troubling them very helpful.

Build your resilience

Resilience is what allows you to cope with life’s ups and downs.

Making something worthwhile out of painful times helps your resilience grow.

Starting a support group to help others, or making something creative out of bad experiences by, for example, writing, painting or singing, can help you express pain and get through hard times.

Audio: anxiety control training

In this audio guide, a doctor explains how you can take control of anxiety.

More in Tips and support

Page last reviewed: 28 February 2019
Next review due: 28 February 2022

In this Article

  • Causes
  • Winter Symptoms
  • Summer Symptoms
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment
  • Light Therapy
  • Prevention
  • When Should I Call my Doctor?

Do the winter months get you down more than you think they should? If so, you might have seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Seasonal depression is a mood disorder that happens every year at the same time. A rare form of seasonal depression, known as “summer depression,” begins in late spring or early summer and ends in fall. In general, though, seasonal affective disorder starts in fall or winter and ends in spring or early summer.

SAD may affect 11 million people in the U.S. each year, and 25 million more may have a milder form called the winter blues.


While we don’t know the exact causes of SAD, some scientists think that certain hormones made deep in the brain trigger attitude-related changes at certain times of year. Experts believe that SAD may be related to these hormonal changes. One theory is that less sunlight during fall and winter leads to the brain making less serotonin, a chemical linked to brain pathways that regulate mood. When nerve cell pathways in the brain that regulate mood don’t work the way they should, the result can be feelings of depression, along with symptoms of fatigue and weight gain.


SAD usually starts in young adulthood and is more common in women than men. Some people with SAD have mild symptoms and feel out of sorts or cranky. Others have worse symptoms that interfere with relationships and work.

Because the lack of enough daylight during wintertime is related to SAD, it’s less often found in countries where there’s plenty of sunshine year-round.

Winter Symptoms

People with SAD typically sleep much more than usual and crave carbohydrates. They also have many of the normal warning signs of depression, including:

  • Feeling sad, cranky, or hopeless
  • Less energy
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Greater appetite
  • More desire to be alone
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Weight gain

Summer Symptoms


The main feature of SAD is that your mood and behavior shift along with the calendar. It’s not a separate mood disorder but a type of major depression or bipolar disorder, sometimes called manic depression.


You may have SAD if, for the past 2 years, you:

  • Had depression or mania that starts as well as ends during a specific season
  • You didn’t feel these symptoms during your “normal” seasons
  • Over your lifetime, you’ve had more seasons with than without depression or mania

It sometimes might take a while to diagnose SAD because it can mimic other conditions, like chronic fatigue syndrome, underactive thyroid, low blood sugar, viral illnesses, or other mood disorders.


Treatments differ, depending on how severe your symptoms are. The type of treatment you get also depends on whether you have another type of depression or bipolar disorder.

Traditional antidepressants are often used to treat seasonal depression. Bupropion XL is currently the only medication that is FDA-approved specifically to prevent major depressive episodes in people with SAD.

Many doctors recommend that people with SAD get outside early in the morning to get more natural light. If this is impossible because of the dark winter months, antidepressant medications or light therapy (phototherapy) may help.

Light Therapy

Some researchers link seasonal depression to the natural hormone melatonin, which causes drowsiness. Light affects the biological clock in our brains that regulates circadian rhythms, a physiological function that may include mood changes when there’s less sunlight in winter. Natural or “full-spectrum” light can have an antidepressant effect.

A full-spectrum bright light shines indirectly into your eyes. You sit about 2 feet away from a bright light — about 20 times brighter than normal room lighting. The therapy starts with one 10- to 15-minute session per day. Then the times increase to 30 to 45 minutes a day, depending on your response.


Don’t look directly at the light source of any light box for long times, to avoid possible damage to your eyes.

Some people with SAD recover within days of using light therapy. Others take much longer. If the SAD symptoms don’t go away, your doctor may increase the light therapy sessions to twice daily.

People who respond to light therapy are encouraged to continue it until they can be out in the sunshine again in the springtime. While side effects are minimal, be cautious if you have sensitive skin or a history of bipolar disorder.


Spend some time outside every day, even when it’s cloudy. The effects of daylight still help. If it’s too cold out, open your blinds and sit by a sunny window.

Begin using a 10,000-lux light box when fall starts, even before you feel the effects of winter SAD.

Eat a well-balanced diet. This will help you have more energy, even if you’re craving starchy and sweet foods.

Exercise for 30 minutes a day, five times a week.

Stay involved with your social circle and regular activities. Social support is very important.

When Should I Call my Doctor?

If you feel depressed, fatigued, and cranky the same time each year, and these feelings seem to be seasonal in nature, you may have a form of SAD. Talk openly with your doctor about your feelings. Follow their recommendations for lifestyle changes and treatment.

If your doctor recommends light therapy, ask if the practice provides light boxes for patients with SAD. You can also rent or purchase a light box, but they’re expensive, and health insurance companies don’t usually cover them.


American Academy of Family Physicians: “Seasonal Affective Disorder.”

National Institute of Mental Health: “What Is Depression?”

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5.

Fieve, R, MD. Bipolar II, Rodale Books, 2006.

National Institute of Mental Health: Science Update: “Properly Timed Light, Melatonin Lift Winter Depression by Syncing Rhythms.”

Magnusson, A. Chronobiology International, 2003.

UpToDate: “Seasonal affective disorder: Epidemiology, clinical features, assessment, and diagnosis.”

American Psychiatric Association: “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).”

Cornell College: “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).”

American Family Physician: “Seasonal Affective Disorder.”

Mayo Clinic: “Seasonal Affective Disorder: Tests and Diagnosis,” “Treatments and Drugs,” “Lifestyle and Home Remedies,” “Understanding a Light Box.”

National Institute of Mental Health: “Seasonal Affective Disorder.”

ULifeline: “The Dangers of Depression.”

How to be happy during sad times

Whether you want them to or not, whether you’re ready or not, chapters come to a close.

Two years ago, I rolled up to New York City in my parents’ van and got ready for the rest of my life in this city.

A month after my second anniversary, I made plans to move because of my depression and lack of a good job. As I sat in Hammerstein Ballroom on my last Sunday in the city, I bawled, mourning all that I’m leaving and all that I will lose.

I envisioned a future for myself in New York City, and slowly it faded from sight. But it’s still special to me, this place of buildings scraping the skies, bustling, hustling movers, shakers, and dreamers who’ve come to make their impact on the world, and corner delis where cooks know exactly how I like an egg and cheese on a roll.

I remember the man who asked me if I was OK as I cry-walked through Brooklyn. I remember the boy who captured my heart, to whom I never got to say goodbye. I remember the feel of the wind on the High Line at the Hudson River on a blustery day. I remember the blisters on my feet from my first days, which eventually turned to callouses as I became accustomed to the walking. I remember the pizza place near Astor Place where I went every day during the year of grad school I completed. I cherish the thought of the dinner boats that made me feel like a millionaire while being a broke New Yorker, the millions of laughs I shared with the friends this city gave me.

I’m heartbroken to leave — but I’m also excited about what’s next. As confusing as that mix of emotions can be, I think it’s fine to be confused.

There’s nothing wrong with mourning what you’re giving up, all the things that are or were but cannot be anymore because you’re leaving. I hope I’ll return someday, but the truth is that I don’t know if I’ll ever make it back.

So I cry. I cry because leaving is the end of something. It’s the beginning of something else, of course, and I’m excited to face a future that could take any shape and that will undoubtedly surprise me. I’m happy to be going where I’m going — first to South Carolina, then Italy, and then anywhere the wind blows.

You Might Also Like: How To Stop Numbing Your Emotions — And Start Feeling Them

There are also things that could not be whether I stayed or not. I was standing outside church, waiting to say goodbye to a friend, when a familiar figure stumbled down the stairs, running to accomplish a task. She was my best friend for all of four glorious months. I loved her and thought we were best friends forever. But that friendship is gone, and leaving New York doesn’t change the fact that she gave up.

Whether you want them to or not, whether you’re ready or not, chapters come to a close.

The New York chapter of my life has been a weird one. I’ve been intensely happy, but I’ve also been hospitalized twice for depression. I’ve made friends I hope to keep for life, but I’ve also lost great ones. I’ve worked hard but have little financial stability to show for it. It’s a study in paradoxes. And as excited as I am for the next adventure, I’m grieving this one’s completion. That, too, is a study in paradoxes, and I can’t help but smile at the beautiful symmetry of it all.

There are going to be times in life when the things don’t work out. There are going to be times when that’s disappointing. But there might also be times when you realize that’s OK. It’s OK that you spent years fighting for one thing, ended up with another, and are happy.

I think that’s the beauty of life — how unpredictable it is and how adaptable we are as humans. We’re so flexible in the things we can weather! It’s honestly amazing.

I’m excited to see where I end up in a few months. Maybe I’ll run right back to New York. Maybe I’ll never come back. I think both options are alright.

How to be happy during sad times

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended life as we know it. It’s changed daily routines, limited social interactions and shaken our sense of safety. And mental health experts want you to know that it’s OK to feel sad about all of that.

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Grief is a natural response to loss – whether that’s the loss of a loved one, or the loss of your sense of normalcy.

“We are experiencing a lot of disappointment right now — in both small and big ways — and grief is going to be a factor,” says clinical health psychologist Amy Sullivan, PsyD, ABPP. “It’s really important that we process this and stay connected to other people in safe ways.”

How do we go about dealing with all of these difficult and unexpected feelings bubbling up? There’s no right or wrong way. But here are some ideas that may help you cope with current events.

Look through the lens of grief

The stages of grief can provide a helpful framework for navigating these complex emotions. Experts recognize these stages as:

  • Denial.
  • Anger.
  • Bargaining.
  • Despair.
  • Acceptance.

But, they also know that people don’t step neatly from one stage to the next in this exact order.

“Grief can come in waves and change on a very regular basis,” Dr. Sullivan says.

“Our feelings can change on a daily, or even an hourly, basis.”

So it’s normal to go from feeling despair one day (When will this all be over?) to anger the next (I hate that I had to cancel the vacation I’ve had planned for months.)

“The first thing we need to do is to recognize that it’s normal to have these waves of emotions that are happening on a regular basis,” Dr. Sullivan says.

Acknowledge the loss

There are many types of losses that are happening right now for you and and for many others. Maybe someone you know got sick with COVID-19. Maybe you lost your job. Maybe you’re missing simply hugging friends and family members.

“Those are all very sad, difficult things for people to manage,” Dr. Sullivan says.

Feel what you’re feeling

Whether you feel overwhelmed, anxious, powerless or anything else, it can help to identify and name these emotions.

“It can be quite powerful to sit with those feelings for a few moments — to really recognize those emotions and normalize them,” Dr. Sullivan says.

But put a time limit on it. Dr. Sullivan suggests giving yourself five minutes to feel that emotion, and then moving on to something that you know is a positive coping skill for you.

“It’s important for us to accept where our feelings are at the moment and process through them, and then move into a more positive position of acceptance,” she says.

Identify your own best coping mechanisms

“This is a time when people need to become innovative and develop their own individual sense of coping that works for them during this time,” Dr. Sullivan says. Some examples might include:

  • Deep breathing.
  • Mindfulness exercises.
  • Journaling.
  • Talking with another person.
  • Going for a walk.

“If it comes to a point where someone can’t handle these feelings on their own, they need to seek mental health help,” Dr. Sullivan says.

Fight the urge to disengage

If you tend to withdrawal when times get tough, know that staying connected is a powerful tool for coping during hard times. Whether that comes in the form of video chatting or sending a good old-fashioned letter, staying in touch with family, friends, neighbors and coworkers can help you keep a positive attitude.

Many trained mental and behavioral health professionals are also seeing patients through virtual visits, so if you’re having trouble coping, contact your healthcare provider for a referral.

Focus on what you can control

When there is so much uncertainty about the future, it’s easy to get carried away playing out the worst case scenarios in your head. Will I or someone I know get COVID-19? How long will we have to stay socially distanced? Will things ever go back to normal?

“Anticipating negative events can bring a sense of anxiety or fear,” Dr. Sullivan says.

Instead of agonizing over the things you can’t know or control, be aware of what you do have control of. For example, you can choose how much news or social media you consume in a day. You can decide what you eat. Be mindful about these choices, and focus on staying in the present.

Be open to joy

Allow yourself to find joy and gratitude in the small things, like a video chat with family members, or the rush of fresh air when you open a window or step outside. If you’re under a shelter-in-place order, find ways to appreciate the opportunity to step back from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and be home.

­­Helping kids cope with disappointment

A change in routine can be especially tough for kids. They might not understand why school is canceled, or think it’s unfair that they can’t play with their friends or see their grandparents.

“Our kids have their own misconceptions about what’s occurring,” Dr. Sullivan says. “I think it’s important for us to give them the appropriate information at their age-appropriate level.”

That might include teaching them what they can do to reduce the spread of germs, and limiting their exposure to what’s on TV and social media.

“One of the other things we’ve done in my family is help the kids find the positives,” Dr. Sullivan says. “Instead of thinking, I can’t be with my friends, challenge them to think of what they can do, like making cards for people who are alone or might be at risk for sadness, isolation, depression or anxiety.”

And remember that kids look to the adults in their life for example. If you can model how to stay calm and safe, that will help your kids, too.