The Upside of Down

Researchers agree that there may be some benefits to being down:

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Is there a positive side to being down?

Dr. Nasreen Khatri, Baycrest psychologist, believes that we need negative emotion to survive.

There are evolutionary reasons for why people become down, she explains. “Negative emotions allow us to withdraw from the world, distance ourselves from potentially harmful situations, regroup and recuperate from bad experiences.”

By causing us to withdraw, occasional negative mood may protect us. Depending on the situation, it allows us to think, understand our relationships and gain strength or insights for change.”

For example, during bereavement, grief can be a call for support from family and friends. If someone does not show signs of grief and sadness, loved ones would not know that they are in distress and that support is needed.

Negative events can teach people about their own capabilities

Adversity can lead to mental strength and resilience. Negative events such as the death of a loved one, an illness or job loss can teach people about their own capabilities, coping abilities and the importance of their friends and family. Although it may not feel that way when you are going through it, these valuable lessons help with coping in future stressful situations.

A study by the State University of Buffalo found that people who had a moderate number (between two to six) of adverse life events (such as a death of a family member, illness, or divorce) scored highest on measures of well-being and were more resilient to dealing with subsequent difficult situations.

At a recent Baycrest conference in Toronto about emotions and the brain, Dr. Benoit Mulsant, clinical director of geriatric care at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, explained that depression may be a deterrent, the same way pain or fever is a defence. Perhaps it’s our body’s red flag of survival, he said, signalling that we should avoid a particular situation or move on.

“We are not referring to those who are clinically depressed, who are suffering from prolonged sadness which makes it difficult to carry on daily activities and requires treatment,” emphasizes Dr. Khatri. “We are referring to mild cases of low mood, where you are feeling sad or depleted for a short period.”

The up side is that there may be benefits to a certain amount of negative emotion. In other words, we don’t suffer in vain.

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