Feeling Sad or Depressed

Maybe you are wondering "Am I sad or depressed?" This post will answer how sadness and depression look alike and where the difference lies between the two.

by Emilie Glen Colsted

Feeling sad or depressed

Maybe you are wondering "Am I sad or depressed?" This post will answer how sadness and depression look alike and where the difference lies between the two as well as how to cope.

What is sadness?

According to APA sadness is ”an emotional state of unhappiness, ranging in intensity from mild to extreme and usually aroused by the loss of something that is highly valued (e.g., by the rupture of a relationship)”.

Sadness is a perfectly normal feeling in upsetting or disappointing situations. Sometimes we may experience sadness more intensely, while other times the feeling is milder.

What is depression?

APA defines depression as more than sadness: “Persistent sadness is one of the two defining symptoms of a major depressive episode, the other being anhedonia”.

In other words, lasting feelings of sadness and loss of interest or pleasure can be signs of depression, which is a mood disorder that globally affects one in six people (16.6 %) at some time in their life.

This makes depression the most common mental illness. Fortunately, depression is treatable with therapy and potentially antidepressant medication. And fortunately, there are ways to help prevent the development of depression.

Why do we experience sadness and depression?

We tend to avoid sadness almost instinctively - e.g. when we tell someone to “cheer up” or “don’t be sad”. However, sadness is a normal feeling and a natural part of life’s downs.

Sadness can also be a friendly reminder of what matters to us. When we recognize sadness is at play, we can become aware of what we find meaningful and valuable in life. In other words, sadness can be a helpful feeling that helps us appreciate the good we have lost and treasure what we might still have.

On the other hand, depression can seem to hit us without a clear explanation and be unhelpful to us. Feeling depressed is typically associated with:

  • Sadness

  • Lack of interest or pleasure

  • Anger or irritability

  • Anxiety

  • Weight or appetite changes

  • Feeling tired and having sleep issues

  • Excessive guilt and low self-esteem

  • Inability to remember and concentrate

  • Feeling numb

How to cope with sadness and depression

Here is a list of tips and tricks to cope with sadness and depression


  • Aknowledge the feeling

Suppressing our feelings can make us feel more depressed. On the other hand, acknowledging their presence can help bring clarity to process them. So try to welcome sadness as a normal feeling and embrace it when you experience it.

  • Vent your feelings

It is important for our mental well-being to vent our feelings. Venting can help us understand why we feel sad and what steps to take to feel better. We can do so either to ourselves - e.g. by keeping a journal - or by reaching out to a kind person and sharing how we are feeling.

  • Show self-compassion and kindness

Research suggests that practising self-compassion is associated with adaptive emotions and can promote positive health behaviors. For self-compassion, you can try to practice forgiveness and be kind to yourself whenever you get hit by any unhelpful thinking patterns like "should" thoughts, also called cognitive distortions.


  • Exercise and activity

Even the little things can feel challenging when we have depression - even getting out of bed in the morning can be a daily struggle. However, exercise and physical activity like walking is proven to lessen depression. It is not only beneficial for our physical health but also for our mental health. Try to take a short mindful walk on a daily basis.

  • Self-care activities and routines

Research suggests that there is a link between depression and sleep disturbances. To improve your sleep routines you can limit screen time, caffeine and food intake before bedtime. Research also suggests that there is a link between improving diet and mental well-being. Try to keep track of your eating habits and ensure a balanced diet

  • Seek professional help

After reading this and if you suspect having depression please reach out to a doctor or therapist for professional help. You are not alone in facing this and there is evidence-based help like psychotherapy and antidepressants.

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