How to Relieve Social Pressure to “Cheer Up” When Feeling Down

Posted by Lauren Presutti in Life After Paralysis on February 20, 2023 # Mental Health

sessionDo you ever feel pressured to be happy? Or have you ever felt like you “shouldn’t” be sad? Sadness is a painful – yet normal – part of life and fighting against it or expecting to be happy all the time only makes our sadness feel more intense. After experiencing a spinal cord injury, it is very normal to experience sadness as you grieve your losses and make sense of your new normal. More broadly, there are numerous times when we may feel sad throughout our lifespan, including when we don’t get what we need or want, when things don’t turn out well, when we’re separated from people or things we love, loneliness, or general disappointment. It’s okay to feel sad in any circumstance. No matter what you face–whether it relates to paralysis or not – you don’t need anyone’s permission to feel sad. There’s no reason to feel guilty. There’s no need to justify your sadness. Believing that we “shouldn’t” feel sad in any given situation sets us up for negative thinking and unhealthy responses that often spiral into further problems.

Unfortunately, we live in a social world with a huge emphasis on maximizing positivity. Smiling, being outgoing, friendly, and energetic is often responded to positively by others and are considered important for personal wellness. The problem with this social norm is that it does not leave much room in society for acknowledging pain. As a result, sometimes you may feel socially pressured to eliminate your sadness because others may be uncomfortable with the expression of your sad feelings. You may begin to feel angry about being misunderstood by others or experience shame or guilt in response to this social pressure. Still, nobody should minimize your sadness or pressure you to simply “cheer up.” In most cases, that doesn’t work.

It’s important to relieve ourselves of the pressure to be happy all the time. Remember that you have the power to step away from social pressure. You have the power to disallow social pressure to impact how you manage your emotions. If someone is invalidating your experience or pressuring you to “get over” your feelings, try setting a personal boundary with that person so that you don’t get wrapped up in viewing sadness as “unacceptable.” As much as we want to feel better, trying to “force” your sadness to go away is often ineffective, especially when the force stems from a desire to accommodate ourselves to others.

Effectively managing sadness often includes accepting the feelings and deepening your understanding of why these feelings have surfaced. It’s important to acknowledge your sad feelings and connect the dots between how you are feeling and what is happening in your life. You might want to journal about it or talk with a trusted person in your life. By acknowledging it, understanding it, and realizing that your sadness is a natural response to something that is occurring in your life, most people experience a sense of relief and begin to feel lighter. As you go through this process, it’s also essential to practice self-care, which may include engaging in activities that you find soothing or gently allowing yourself to take a break from something. In time, you will likely shift toward regaining joy again.

But if your sadness feels chronic or unresponsive to your own self-care methods (occurring for a long time without going away), it’s important to speak up and get connected to a mental health therapist who can help.

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The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.