Am I Feeling Sad or Experiencing Depression?

Rachel Sharpe

Feeling sad but can’t tell if it’s sadness or something bigger like depression? You’re not alone. Sadness is a common emotion and one that we’ll experience throughout our lives. If it extends to a longer period, it may be depression instead of just an occasional sad feeling that comes up. In this article, we’ll discuss the difference between sadness and depression and share some ways to help you stop feeling sad. Let’s help you get the support you need to manage your sadness or depression.

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What is sadness?

Sadness is an emotional state that’s the polar opposite of happiness. It’s a low energy, possibly tearful, and unhappy state of mind. Often, we begin feeling sad when we have negative thoughts. If our thoughts hurt us emotionally, we may feel sad. 

What is depression?

Depression is a low-energy mood disorder that’s classified as a medical illness. People who feel depressed often feel that way for the entire day for weeks, months, or even years at a time. As it is an illness, treatment usually involves medication, known as antidepressants. 

feeling depressed

What’s the difference between sadness and depression?

Sadness is a fleeting emotional state. It often has a trigger too. For instance, you might’ve lost a loved one, and as a result, you feel sad that you now have to live in a world without them. Or, maybe you’ve recently gone through an unexpected breakup. The shock of the news might lead you to feel sad. It doesn’t need to be too complicated either. Sometimes, you lose control of your thoughts, and your mind sends you a sad thought that makes you have low self-esteem. You end up feeling sad or insecure about yourself. 

Depression doesn’t always have a trigger. It could be a mental state you’re in all the time that you’re unable to get yourself out of. You may experience feeling sad, bad sleep, irritability, numbness, low energy, and changes in eating habits. 

While you can take steps to snap out of sadness, depression is a whole other ball game. Depression is a more prolonged and more symptomatic version of sadness. 

Causes of feeling sad

1. Negative thoughts

The source of emotions is our thoughts. Thinking of something negative, sad, or hurtful can lead to feelings of sadness. If we manually change the thoughts in our heads, we can rewire our brains. If you find you have ruminating thoughts that are out of your control, consider doing some right-brain activities, such as drawing, meditating, or painting. When you activate the right brain more than the left brain, you silence the thoughts. Being in a flow state, doing something you’re passionate about mindfully, can also help silence your negative thoughts. 

2. Unfortunate events

Tragic or other unfortunate events can cause you to start feeling sad. If you studied hard for an exam and ended up failing it, your frustration may cause you to feel sad about the result. Or, if your spouse filed for divorce, the instability of your love life and loss of a relationship can cause you to feel sad. Unfortunate events happen to everyone, and they can happen surprisingly often. If something terrible happens, know that it’s normal to feel sad due to what happened. Allow yourself time to grieve. Going through the five stages of grief is a common process for those who feel sad about difficult life events.  

3. Exhaustion

As we hinted at in an earlier section, depression can cause sleep issues, such as insomnia. However, sometimes when you’ve had inadequate sleep for one night or more in a row, it can also cause you to feel sad. If your fitness band app tells you that you need to rest up, you might find going to bed earlier one night helps eliminate your feelings of sadness. 

4. Medical illness

Feeling sad can be caused by a medical illness, such as depression, or a terminal illness diagnosis, such as cancer. Ultimately, if we’re frightened of death, we might feel sad if we think in worst-case scenarios when diagnosed with a potentially fatal illness, even if the odds are actually in our favor. Sadness can also arise from low iron or other vitamin deficiencies. 

feeling sad

How to stop feeling sad

1. Work through your thoughts

Write down all the thoughts that come up that make you feel sad. Spend an entire day recording all your sad thoughts as they arise. Write a believable opposite thought for that thought at the end of the day or even the next day. For instance, “I’m not worthy of love” is a common thought that arises after a breakup. The opposite thought might be, “The person I was with didn’t love me in the way I needed them to. I can spend time dating to find someone who will love me as I am and as I want to be loved.” Reframing your thoughts is a common exercise done in therapy when people are feeling sad. You can practice this exercise anytime you notice your thoughts become negative. 

2. Practice a guided meditation

Guided meditation is a breathing exercise that can calm the mind when you feel sad. Some people think meditation makes the thoughts louder. However, when following a guided meditation practice, you’ll have prompts helping you along, so your thoughts don’t get too out of control and become manageable. Practicing meditation daily is a good habit that can help stabilize how you perceive the world by managing your thoughts differently. When you realize that thoughts don’t come from you but float into your mind, it gives you the ability to overpower them. You can also try following along to this meditation for sadness. This sadness video can also be helpful. 

3. Help someone in need

Helping others through acts of kindness or even good deeds is a great way to help you learn how to be happy. If you’ve been feeling sad lately, make a pact with yourself to do acts of generosity every day for the year. Every day, take some time to look for opportunities to be kind to others, even when it’s particularly a rough day for you. When you go out of your way to be kind to others, you’ll see others being kind to you. It’ll drastically reduce the likelihood of bad events happening to you or people saying hurtful things to you. When you go out of your way to be kind as much as you can, you’ll be too busy taking action instead of thinking. And thinking is the root of your sadness in the first place. 

4. Do something you enjoy

When feeling sad, take some time to do something you enjoy. Since you’re likely feeling lower in energy, you might do something a bit more lowkey than usual. And that’s perfectly fine. You might pack up some loot bags for children on Halloween, write handwritten Christmas cards, decorate your house for the season, or sit on the couch and watch an uplifting movie you haven’t seen before. Don’t do things you think will make you stop feeling sad, but something you know will boost your mood. For example, maybe texting your ex would make you feel better in the short term, but you’d be prolonging your pain even longer. Think of being around people you like and who likes you back, and who you can do simple activities with to cheer up

5. Talk to a psychotherapist

When you find a therapist who specializes in the situation you’re presently in, you’ll get the support you need when feeling sad. If you’ve lost a loved one, you might spend time with a grief counselor. If you’re going through a divorce, you might choose to talk to a family therapist. Experiencing a trauma would require the help of a trauma therapist. So when you look for the right mental health counselor, aim to find someone who will support your needs. Along the way, you’ll create a personalized therapy plan. You’ll begin doing self-compassion exercises, rewiring the brain by challenging your thinking, and so much more. After a twelve-week program, you’ll likely notice your symptoms have improved. Therapy is a way to get all those frustrations, emotions, and suffering out on the table so you can resolve your pain in a healthy way. 

6. Spend time with friends and family

When feeling sad, we typically isolate ourselves from others. However, the people who live the longest tend to be the happiest people. And one of the things they do differently is live active social lives. While that might seem like the polar opposite of what you want right now —especially when you’re in your warm bed, socializing can help you get out of your rut. Whether you spend a couple of hours getting things off your chest or do a social activity to help uplift your mood, being social has been scientifically proven to help improve your mood. So zip up that hoodie and call up a friend to go out to dinner or go for a long walk in the neighborhood for a chat; it might be what helps you stop feeling sad.  

7. Eat a balanced diet

Have you ever noticed that all you want to do is eat junk food when you’re sad? Same. Bad news, though. Eating junk food like candy, processed foods, pastries, or even ice cream is scientifically proven to make you feel more lethargic and depressed. So they’re not helping you one bit. While it gives you some mouth pleasure for a few moments, you ultimately end up feeling sadder. Now, we know that you’re feeling sad, so we’re not going to tell you to snack on broccoli; we’re not that cruel. However, if you feel like eating snacks, balance it with a meal with vegetables so you get some nutrients. Maybe broccoli with some fish. Fish oils are really good for your brain, so they can help with a tiny boost. It’s all about mindful eating

8. Get some sleep

Whenever you’re feeling sad, you might notice you feel tired—especially after a big, long cry. So, rest up. If you need to get to bed early, do that. Getting enough sleep will help recharge your batteries so you can stabilize your mood. People with depression sometimes have difficulty sleeping because they either over or under sleep. Sleep until you wake up. And once you wake up, no matter how comfortable that bed is, leave it. You can’t hide away from your life problems. If you feel groggy, jump into a nice, warm shower. Showering will help relax you while washing away all that negative energy. 

9. Spend time outside

Most people with depression tend to prefer comfort, staying indoors and possibly in bed. While it can be hard to head outside after being locked inside for so long, it’s incredibly healthy and mood-stabilizing to spend some time outside. If you’re feeling sad, consider going for a walk with a neighbor, friend, or family member. If you’re feeling depressed, consider sitting in your backyard, front porch, or balcony. Consider it your baby step into the outside world. If it’s too cold, stay outside for five minutes. It’ll give you some energy and bring some energy back into you. If it’s warm out, enjoy the sunshine if you can for at least fifteen minutes. If you do go for a walk, consider trying this walking meditation

10. Get in a flow state

We often feel sad when we’re living in the past or future. We cling to memories of how things used to be and refuse to live in the moment. You can be more present in the present moment. The easiest way to live in the now is to get in a flow state. Doing the activities that help you click out of your head helps the most. If you play an instrument, playing music can help you get into a flow state quickly. Or if you don’t know how to play, sign up for lessons as learning something new requires enough focus and attention that it results in a flow state experience too. If you ever get lost in your work, art, or any other hobby, you might be experiencing a flow state. And when you get into this state, it’s hard to feel sad because you’re too busy living. 

Conclusion

Whether you’re feeling sad or experiencing depression, getting the support you need is important. Find someone you trust or seek professional help to uplift your mood. Depression is often considered a thought disorder, so practicing meditation in the meantime can help you learn to accept your wandering thoughts as just thoughts instead of giving them a deeper meaning. Getting into a flow state helps you live in the present moment where emotions like sadness don’t exist. Getting lost in a hobby, spending time with loved ones, and helping others are all great ways to help you stop feeling sad and find the inner peace you’ve been looking for. 

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