Depression

How to Know If Your Sadness is Typical or a Depression Symptom

January 29, 2021

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It can be difficult to grasp and understand our feelings when traumatic events or crises arise in our lives. Without the right information at hand, it’s very common for people to mistake their feelings of sadness as depression when stressful situations occur. Though sadness is a symptom of depression, there are important characteristics of typical sadness and depressive sadness that people should be aware of in order to fully understand their own emotional experiences. If you’re struggling through a life crisis or stressor and want to better understand your emotional well-being, read down below to learn the following information about sadness and depression:

  • The differences between sadness and depression
  • How to overcome sadness
  • How to treat depression
Young man tilts head back against wall and stares off into the distance with a worried look
Recognizing the difference between sadness and depression is vital to overcoming your emotional struggles. Image courtesy of Pexels.com.

Sadness Vs. Depression

What is Sadness?

Sadness is a temporary mood state in which one feels despair. Being sad is a healthy and normal response to a crisis, trauma, or other despairing event. Often, sadness will entail moments of improved mood that come and go in waves. Feeling sad is a typical adaptive response to stressful situations. It lets one know that they recognize how distressing a situation is and allows one to work through the emotional difficulties to reach an improved mood state. 

Sadness typically won’t lead to extreme changes in behavior compared to depression. Though it can affect one’s appetite and interests in aspects of daily life, these effects don’t tend to persist as extremely as depression symptoms. It’s not worrying or atypical to experience sadness following a crisis or disturbing event. Sad mood is part of the human experience and usually cites the beginning of one overcoming a life stressor. 

What is Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder with distressing symptoms that influence various areas of one’s daily life, self-care, and perceptions that sadness often doesn’t reach. Depression as a disorder also lasts for much longer than a sad mood. A diagnosis of major depression requires that symptoms persist for at least two weeks. While a sad mood is a barrier that one can usually tackle on their own, depression is a beast that typically requires professional help to overcome. 

Depression is a multifaceted mental disorder, and understanding its causes can be just as complex as the symptoms themselves. It’s common for depression to arise in reaction to a trauma or event, and there are actually a variety of possibilities for what may be causing one’s depression. Sometimes the cause can be pinpointed, and other times there is none. 

Symptoms

Prolonged sad or depressed mood

The symptom of sadness in depression differs from non-depressive sadness in its severity and longevity. A sad mood lasting consistently for at least two weeks may be indicative of depression. Depressive sadness also negatively impacts one’s daily functioning and is more debilitating than a typical sad mood. 

Decreased interest in daily activities

Dealing with the extreme sadness of depression makes it more difficult to maintain interest or motivation to perform basic daily tasks, such as hygiene upkeep, going to work, and hobbies. 

Drastic appetite change

Depression can cause sufferers to either overeat in an attempt to self-soothe or lose much interest in eating at all. Depression manifests differently from person to person, but one’s interest in maintaining a regular eating schedule is often compromised. 

Extreme change in sleep patterns

It’s common for those diagnosed with depression to either oversleep due to increased fatigue or experience insomnia. Depression disturbs mood and brain activity, often leading to detrimental effects on one’s sleep patterns. 

Feelings of guilt and worthlessness

Those with depression tend to fixate on negative feelings and traumatic memories, which often causes them to perceive themselves in an extremely negative light.

Isolation from others

Being around others or socializing can feel strenuous for those with depression. Often sufferers will withdraw from the company of other people and lose interest in social activities. 

Two young women stretch will doing yoga together and smile
Seeking and securing feelings of connection with others can help ease the weight of sadness. Image courtesy of Pexels.com.

Overcoming Sadness

Connect with Others

When you’re sad, it can feel easy to get stuck in your own head and lose sight of the world going on around you. Being around other people and participating in social activities is an effective and enjoyable way to start overcoming feelings of sadness. Whether it’s grabbing a bite to eat with a friend or putting effort to engage in a certain number of conversations everyday, refocusing your motivation on socialization can take the emotional weight off your shoulders. 

Another useful social activity also includes counseling groups with other people grappling with issues similar to your own. Feeling kinship and relatedness to other people can be a healthy reminder that you’re not alone in your personal struggles. 

Allow Yourself to Feel

Repressing or keeping emotions bottled up can be detrimental and stressful for anyone struggling with sadness. It’s essential to provide an outlet for your feelings so that you can process them and eventually overcome any emotional turmoil. Getting your feelings of sadness out can promise a more efficient improvement in mood. 

Consider artistic activities like drawing or painting to convey your emotions in a safe, abstract way. Don’t be afraid to also cry or vent to someone close to you in order to free yourself from emotional weight. Embracing your emotional experience and using a method to express your feelings can be incredibly impactful in overcoming sadness. 

Distract Yourself

Once you’ve processed and started to utilize a healthy emotional outlet, it’s essential to not let yourself obsessively fixate on your negative emotions. Refocusing your attention and efforts to the positive and uplifting aspects of life can give you a useful reminder of life beyond sadness. 

Activities that allow you to escape and get lost in something enjoyable are the best for overcoming a sad mood. Consider watching a movie that always brings a smile to your face or listening to songs that are attached to positive memories in your life. Performing hobbies and activities that make you feel delighted also provide an effective distraction--whether volunteering to work with adorable animals or indulging in your favorite pastime, it’s always helpful to refocus on the positive in life.

Endorphin Boosting Activities

Endorphins are chemicals produced in the brain that make you feel great. The chemicals can reduce the perception of pain while also boosting feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Focusing on activities that have been shown to increase endorphin levels in the brain can be an effective way of reducing feelings of sadness. 

Exercise is a perfect way to work off frustration and stress while making your endorphin activity skyrocket. Laughing is another fun and enjoyable way to get your endorphins rushing, especially when something really cracks you up and makes you let out deep, long-lasting laughter. Indulging in a chocolate treat every now and then also boosts brain chemical activity through the active compound in chocolate called phenethylamine. 

A young man has a conversation with his therapist in her office
A psychotherapist is equipped to help depression patients process and grapple with their symptoms. Image courtesy of Pexels.com.

Depression Treatments

Medication

If deemed a fitting treatment option by a psychiatrist, antidepressants can be effective in reducing symptoms of depression. Research has shown that targeting brain chemistry and circuits between brain chemicals can effectively treat depression in patients. There is an array of medications available to improve the experiences of those suffering from depression. 

Antidepressants are a commonly prescribed medication that come in different types, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tetracyclics. Different antidepressants generally affect certain chemicals in the brain such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine. Psychiatric meds are sometimes mistakenly thought to cure depression and show effectiveness immediately, but the effects of the medications can usually take at least a few weeks to begin. Antidepressants aren’t likely to permanently banish depression but can help depression patients thrive and flourish a little more everyday. 

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

Transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy is another effective treatment option for depression patients, and it’s particularly fitting for symptoms that are resistant to medication. TMS utilizes electromagnetic pulses to target and regulate areas of the brain affiliated with mood functions. The pulses delivered by a TMS device can even out levels of brain chemicals and communication between brain areas to improve depressive symptoms. 

TMS is a non-invasive treatment option for your depression symptoms that promises few to no side effects. TMS therapy is typically provided at an outpatient clinic or hospital, and the frequency of sessions will vary per individual patient. TMS providers will also personalize comfortable and efficient treatment plans to ensure the most impactful intervention for each depression patient. 

Psychotherapy

A common misconception about mental health issues is that talking about your mental struggles is separate from resolving them. In the case of treating depression, talk therapy is an effective method for minimizing and improving symptoms. 

Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, can help resolve the emotional struggles and symptoms of depression through interpersonal interaction. As a patient discusses their feelings and symptomatic experiences, the psychotherapist can help them understand their thoughts, behaviors, and life circumstances to prepare patients to healthily deal with their symptoms. Research studies have shown that psychotherapy can induce chemical changes in the brain similar to those caused by psychiatric medication. 

If you have a better understanding of your emotional state and mental well-being, always know that there are ways to resolve your emotional struggles. No matter the severity of your sadness or depression, there’s always treatment methods you can pursue for improved mental health. Sadness and depression are emotional obstacles for which there are always tools and professional help to overcome.

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