Why Do I Fear Being Sad?

It’s a complex emotional response. There’s more to it than a simple longing for others. Instead, let’s think deeper: Why might I be sad? It takes a lot more research and thinking than you might imagine. What we know now about the causes and symptoms of depression–as well as other forms of mental illness–will help us find solutions and find out what’s really going on.

It sounds simple; in reality, it doesn’t always come easy. But if you’re looking for ways to understand how you can work towards a happier, healthier and more fulfilled life, the science behind it is definitely worth the effort. If you’ve been feeling more stressed or anxious, there may be an underlying cause. And maybe the remedy lies in some simple, yet powerful, things you can do. Or it may be that you’re just beginning to see for yourself what your feelings–or thoughts–have to do. Either way, our goal is to connect and inspire you to reach beyond what comes natural to you.

Let’s start with what the research says. Research finds that we tend to be more upset when confronted with something that we perceive to threaten our sense of security. It’s the result of our subconscious, learned fear of danger. The brain’s response to perceived threat is called “salience.” In addition to physical signs, some things can trigger a strong response that may feel so extreme and severe that it causes anxiety even in a person who is otherwise at ease. Here are four examples: You may fear losing your favorite TV shows or movies when you change the channels. Or you could easily feel anxious if a situation seems overwhelming or confusing. Something that feels too difficult or unpleasant can be triggering a feeling of dread: I feel so stressed…

This feeling of danger is not confined to certain situations. It can be experienced by people who live in rural environments, those who live alone or in homes with little traffic and others prone to isolation, like those with autism or dementia. For people who suffer from depression, this kind of emotional upheaval–or a sense of danger–may lead to a feeling of loneliness and isolation (see: “Loneliness is Caused by Something Else!” ). In these cases, our subconscious knows exactly what to do; it fears what it perceives to be a threat. It takes a lot more to convince us that our fear is misplaced than it ever did to convince us we should stop worrying. This process is called the ” threat signal .” Research has already shown that the less you feel safe, the more anxious you’ll feel. It’s called the “safety signal.” If you’re able to change your behavior to create “safety signals” in your life—in the same way you can create “fear signals” when you’re in an anxious state—then you’ll begin to feel safer–a much happier, more relaxed, and fulfilled person—and then you won’t be afraid of the threats that are ever likely to come to you. The goal is to create some kind of safety signal in your life as often as possible.

Our first safety signal is a reminder that when a person or situation appears so threatening that it causes our brain to feel anxious, we should make time for that person. I can’t wait for the next group to hear from me; I’d love to meet others who are living life on this level of happiness (see: “When Life Gets So Awesome!” ). The second safety signal occurs when we find people whom we find “funny” and engaging. When we’re having a good day or feeling happy, we get a boost of energy that allows us to feel better. This can help us feel less anxious and we can enjoy ourselves more. The second safety signal for me is a conversation. When I talk to my friends or get along well with other people, there can be the same kind of feeling of safety: It’s nice to be around other people. 

The third safety signal is a sense that things will go well. This, too, is based on the fear of danger. I have learned this the hard way: If I’m planning something with other people, I often get nervous or anxious about what may come up.