It's been a tense few years, to say the least, and your emotions are probably running the gamut from nonexistent to the extremes. Whether it's watching the inauguration, seeing people get vaccinated, or hopping on a Zoom call with your best friend, everything from the most intense to the most mundane can cause conflicting feelings. But dissolving into a puddle of tears on days when good things are happening is a disorienting experience, to say the least. If you're asking yourself why good news makes you sad, you're not alone.
Celebrating & Mourning At The Same Time
"We often feel more than one emotion during an emotionally charged experience," says Dr. Navya Singh, Psy.D, the founder and chief clinical officer of behavioral healthcare platform wayForward. "People experience different emotions from one another even when experiencing the same event (one family member can be extremely saddened by the loss of a grandparent and another feel a sense of relief that the person is no longer suffering)," Dr. Singh explains.
Maybe it was your birthday last month and that sense of anticlimax after you hung up from your very lovely Zoom party hit you hard. The COVID vaccine is an incredible feat of science, but knowing that you're so close to the pandemic finish line (when so many people did not make it) is a tough emotion to cope with. Or maybe you're thrilled and relieved about the inauguration, but find yourself anxious to get the day over with, given that insurrectionists stormed the very same building just two weeks ago.
If any of this sounds like you, Dr. Singh says that it's very normal. "There is no 'right' way to feel," she tells Bustle. "We all have different life experiences that contribute to us experiencing and expressing our emotions differently. This is important to remember when thoughts such as 'I shouldn't feel bad, sad, mad, etc.' or 'this is the wrong way to feel' start to come to us."
Particularly for BIPOC at this point in history, intense and mixed emotions can remind you to seek out community support. "Black and brown people simply do not have the option of forgetting when white supremacy is emboldened in the ways that we have witnessed," says psychotherapist Elizabeth Ohito, L.C.S.W., referring to the Capitol insurrection. "It is actually emotionally intelligent for us to stay alert, connected to each other, and also to feel a full range of emotions from anger to sadness in light of the current state of affairs."
How To Cope With A Case Of Happy-Sad
"A deluge of feelings challenges our ability to hold boundaries with others and with our time," Dr. Vaneeta Sandhu, Psy.D, the head of emotional fitness at mental health platform Coa. Especially when you feel like there's something you should be feeling, it's important to be clear about how much emotional capacity you have to spread around. "When you’re feeling at risk of sacrificing your emotions by focusing on what others around you are feeling, give yourself permission to excuse yourself from the conversation," Dr. Sandhu advises. "This is a way of holding a boundary to protect your own emotional bandwidth, and gives you the extra space to manage the wide array of emotions that are coming up."
It doesn't make you ungrateful or broken if you're sad when everyone around you seems happy. "Validating yourself may look like giving yourself permission to feel that emotion of disappointment," Dr. Sandhu says. Instead of beating yourself up that you're not feeling like you "should" be feeling, try acknowledging what's going on for you. "Name the emotion you are feeling, and then sit with it," Dr. Sandhu suggests. "This approach can help acknowledge the differences of others, while still allowing yourself space to feel that disappointment, and that’s OK."
You can also use your mixed feelings as a reminder to be gentle with yourself and reach out for support. "Rather than putting blinders on and 'powering through,' move more slowly and deliberately, and stay in connection with friends and loved ones," Ohito advises. That way, you won't have to experience the massive spectrum of feels alone.
"Remember that emotions are meant to be felt and that they are never permanent," says certified holistic wellness coach Kama Hagar. It's OK to go through the entire spectrum of feels. "Normalize the ebbs and flows as well as the deeper emotions that are settling in right now." Whether you journal, confide in a trusted friend, chat with your therapist, meditate on particular feelings, or something else entirely, Hagar tells Bustle that it's important to give yourself permission to tune everything else out. "Let yourself reset — even as you squirm and find even just a glimmer of peace of mind. You not only deserve it, but you need it."
Dr. Navya Singh, Psy.D, founder and chief clinical officer of wayForward
Dr. Vaneeta Sandhu, Psy.D, head of emotional fitness at Coa
Elizabeth Ohito, L.C.S.W., psychotherapist
Kama Hagar, certified holistic wellness coach