The Difference between Sadness and Depression

by InnerHour on Mon, 06 Sep 2021

What is sadness?

All of us experience sadness from time to time. It is a basic human emotion triggered when we go through difficult or uncertain situations in life.

Crying, sobbing and withdrawing from loved ones are some of the things that people do when they are sad. Typically, sadness decreases with time and as circumstances change. 

While sadness is not a pleasant feeling, research shows that it is not necessarily a bad thing. It can, in fact, motivate you to engage in behaviours to feel better; studies show that if managed well, sadness can also make you more resilient in the face of distress. Sadness is a great motivational tool that makes you want to improve things in your life. More significantly, sadness is absolutely natural and sometimes essential. Sadness enables you to feel happiness more intensely and appreciate it fully. It provides you with the perspective that is necessary to be grateful for happiness when you do have it. And, of course, like any other feeling, sadness too passes with time. 

With all the changes taking place in the world, you might find yourself feeling sad more frequently than usual. When you recognise any sadness, it’s important to let yourself feel that emotion. Instead of judging yourself for feeling sad,  experience it as it is. This, in itself, can reduce any restlessness or distress you might be experiencing. Then, take steps to feel better. Cry if you want to and notice if there is any relief after you have cried. You can even let out your emotions on paper and see what comes up. 

How does sadness differ from depression?

Depression, unlike sadness, is more long-lasting. It can impact your self-care, social life, professional performance and personal relationships as well. Depression does not just fade away like sadness and usually requires dedicated intervention.

When depressed, people find it difficult to enjoy anything including activities they previously found pleasurable. Sleep and appetite can also be affected and energy levels are generally quite low. Some people tend to feel guilty and ashamed when they are depressed. Moreover, many also have difficulty thinking positively, concentrating on tasks and making rational decisions. They experience a predominance of negative thoughts including thoughts about low or zero self-worth, helplessness, hopelessness,  or even death. 

When dealing with a condition like depression, it is important to remember that it affects millions of people around the world. It is not a character flaw or a weakness on your part and it is a real problem that requires serious attention.

Moreover, just like other illnesses, there are things that can be done to treat it and to improve the quality of your life. Quite often, professional assistance is required to help you deal with depression. It can be difficult to know when to seek such help though. Here are a few things to watch out for in order to decide: 

  • If your sadness has lasted more than two weeks without any relief

  • It is interfering with your professional responsibilities, social or personal life

  • It is making you feel like life is too hard

  • If you experience thoughts related to self-harm

  • If your appetite and/or sleep patterns have significantly changed

If you relate to any of these signs, know that you’re not alone. We know how difficult this time is for you and want to be able to help you feel better. You may not be able to see someone in person right now, but with the following strategies, we hope to help bring you some sense of hope. 

Engage in fun activities

Make a plan that includes doing activities you enjoy - be it reading, listening to music or watching your favourite movie. Try to stick to this as much as possible. Spending your time on enjoyable activities will leave you with less time to ruminate or worry and a lot of time engaging with pleasurable activities.

Avoid comparisons

Remember that things are not going to be like this forever - this phase will also pass with time. Try not to compare how you feel now with a time when you did not feel this way, as it will only make matters worse. Instead, focus on the present and think about the different things that will help you feel better.

Track your accomplishments

Maintain a diary and write down 3 or 5 (or however many) things you are proud of having been able to do, in the day. For instance, you may have eaten a nutritious meal or completed all the house chores. It could even be something as small as making your bed or decluttering your room. 

Be kind to yourself

If something you wanted to do seems too hard, don’t take it as a personal failure. For instance, if you’re unable to check off everything on your to do list or meet your exercise goals for the day, it’s okay. Avoid being too hard on yourself. Instead, focus on all the progress you’re making and remember that you’re doing the best you can!

Make self-care a priority

Try to focus on self-care and do things that make you feel good. This could be simple things like wearing your favourite clothes, taking a long hot bath, or drinking a warm beverage. As we’re all advised to stay home, doing the little things to take care of yourself can go a long way! 

Remember that it’s okay to reach out

No matter how impossible it feels right now, know that help is within your reach. Opening up in a safe space provides relief and a sense of being understood along with clarity on what is happening and what needs to be done to tackle it. While we understand that you may not be able to visit a therapist face-to-face at this point in time, studies have found online therapy to be equally helpful. 

If you’re hesitant about reaching out to a therapist, you can start by reaching out to a loved one around you and asking for their support first. While you may not be able to physically meet up with a friend to discuss how you feel, you can call them up or even send them a text about what’s troubling you.

Remember that everybody feels sad from time to time and it is absolutely okay if you feel this way right now. Keep in mind though that while it might feel like it, this situation is not hopeless and help is always available to you, whenever you choose to seek it. 


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If you’re struggling with depression, don’t hesitate to reach out to an InnerHour therapist for support. We are always here to help you.


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