Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Good News About Having " The Blues"

      Yes, you read the title of this article correctly. There actually is some good news in having the blues. I realize this statement may sound contradictory since feeling sad is not the most pleasant emotion to experience. For many it can be quite painful, especially when sadness becomes much more than the normal "blues" and develops into clinical depression. And there is no good news to be found in having clinical depression.  Individuals experiencing a significant degree of sadness, trouble meeting their daily responsibilities, and have feelings of powerless and hopelessness should seek professional help. However, normal and transient periods of feeling blue, down in the dumps, or just plain sad can actually have a positive effect on one's life. It gives us time for reflection and can be the catalyst for making small or big life changes.  
     When we feel sad or blue we usually are less perky and have less energy. We feel disinterested in our regular social activities, may retreat from our loved ones and friends for a temporary period of time, and usually our thoughts turn inward. In a nutshell, during these normal periods of "the blues" we slow down physically and tend to focus on our inner mental life. Our culture is consumed with pop psychology books, television shows, and social media giving us advice about how not to be sad and what to do as soon as we begin to feel sad. It takes only a split second to find thousands of internet sites devoted to telling us how to be happy or happier than we already feel.  Many of these sites post daily quotes of inspiration with hopes of turning a frown into a smile and we have been conditioned to "treat" our sadness as soon as the first "symptom" appears. We do not recognize the benefits of "working through" our emotions and instead seek out quick fix cures.  
      This attitude is unfortunate because quick fixes oftentimes miss their target. That is, a quick fix rarely resolves the real issue that was causing your "blues" in the first place. Getting to underlying issues and/or problems that are underneath your sadness or the blues requires reflection and reflection requires time and patience, all of which is the opposite of a quick fix. Working through difficult times and allowing yourself to feel painful emotions can actually lead to positive life changes. It is through suffering that we come to realize what it is that is truly impacting our lives negatively. Expecting to always be happy and feeling compelled to shelve or avoid our emotions of sadness or the "blues" has the potential to stunt our ability to recognize the necessary changes we need to make in order to experience a fuller and more satisfying life. Essentially, having the blues, feeling down in the dumps, or just plain sad gives us time "off" from our hectic lives and time "on" for reflection and re-evaluation. You may even find out that by working through what made you sad in the first place is what leads to your happiness in your future!

This article was written by Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D. I am a practicing psychologist in Bryn Mawr, PA. Email any questions or comments to drpauladurlofsky@gmail.com. You can visit my web page at
www.drpauladurlofsky.com to learn more about me and my practice.



  1. This is a very interesting theory which I feel is quite true. Even though it's a little different, it calls to mind the book Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Ablom. It's been a while since I read it, but one part that has always stuck with me is how the professor who is slowly dying has the philosophy that whenever he feels despair overcoming him he allows himself to feel it. He takes a few minutes to let it wash over him every morning and tries to feel it as intensely as possible and then he let's it go. The idea being that if he tried to ignore it or suppress it that it will just build up inside and nag him all day, but if he lets himself feel it then he can get on with his day and feel happy. I've always wondered if I could adopt that philosophy.

    I don't have anything as hard to face as that but I think I am pretty well balanced when it comes to managing my emotions. Just yesterday I had an unexpected bout of sadness while I was discussing some holiday plans with my husband. At first I didn't know why I was feeling upset, but I struggled through the barrier by continuing to talk with my husband, and he was very sweet and supportive as he listened to me work it out. At last my explanations and suppositions at to why I must be feeling unhappy led to tears, but afterward I felt better and about an hour later I came to a few new ideas for how to approach the future holiday we had been previously discussing which I think will be a much better way to celebrate it. Much simpler and less stressful and I couldn't help but feel glad that I had worked through those feelings even though when I started to get upset my first impulse was to walk away and stop talking about it, but I'm glad I didn't do that because then I might not have come to the new conclusions that I came to.

    1. Hi Julie,

      Thank you for your insightful comment. It's great to hear that you allow yourself the opportunity to feel your emotions and find effective solutions to difficult situations. Good luck with your holiday plans. I hope you and husband enjoy them.

      -Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D.

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