What Is Sadness?

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Sadness is an emotional state characterized by feelings of unhappiness and low mood.

It is considered one of the basic human emotions. It is a normal response to situations that are upsetting, painful, or disappointing. Sometimes these feelings can feel more intense, while in other cases they might be fairly mild.

Unlike depression, which is persistent and longer-lasting, sadness is temporary and transitory. Sadness can, however, turn into depression. Being able to tell the difference between normal sadness and depression might encourage you to take action and seek resources for an improved mood.

signs of depression

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Be aware of the signs of sadness turning into depression and get help if you notice these symptoms significantly impacting your life for two weeks or longer.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, and/or being "slowed down"
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, and/or making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning awakening, and/or oversleeping
  • Loss of appetite and/or weight loss, or overeating and/or weight gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide and/or suicide attempts
  • Restlessness and/or irritability
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain

If you experience these, you may feel inclined to just "tough it out" and wait until it passes. However, the earlier you recognize these signs, the sooner you can seek help and change your situation.

When to Call Your Doctor

Know that you are not alone if you are experiencing some (or multiple) of the symptoms above.

If you've been experiencing symptoms of sadness or depression for longer than a few weeks, consider reaching out to your doctor to determine the cause and what you can do about it.

Sometimes feeling depression is not a result of mental illness. It could be a medical condition, like hypothyroidism, for example, that can be causing symptoms of depression.

Once your doctor rules out any potential medical causes, they will be able to provide other options for your depression or refer you to a psychiatrist or therapist who can help you.

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Your doctor will use a number of techniques to determine if what you are feeling is normal sadness or depression. This often involves asking questions or having you complete a questionnaire about what type of symptoms you are experiencing, how long you have been feeling them, and how severe they are.

Your doctor will also want to know more about your life and the impact these symptoms have had on your ability to function at home, work, and school.

Your doctor may also perform a physical exam and conduct lab tests to rule out medical conditions or that might be contributing to your symptoms. Remember to tell your doctor about any medications or supplements that you are taking since certain medications, such as beta-blockers and corticosteroids, may also cause feelings of depression.


There are a number of factors that can play a role in causing depression. Some of the risk factors for depression include:

  • A family history of mental illness
  • Substance use
  • A history of other mental health conditions
  • A weak social support system
  • Experiencing a trauma
  • Chronic health conditions
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Stressful life events
  • Brain chemistry
  • Childhood trauma

Treatment for Depression

Depression is usually treated using medications called antidepressants or through talk therapy. Usually, the best treatment plans include both.


Some popular medication choices for depression include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Paxil (paroxetine), Prozac (fluoxetine), and Zoloft (sertraline)
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like Cymbalta (duloxetine), Effexor (venlafaxine), and Pristiq (desvenlafaxine).

Your doctor will discuss with you which option is best for you.


Cognitive therapy is a popular type of psychotherapy for depression. It teaches people to take their negative patterns of thinking and replace them with more positive ones. This is helpful because our thoughts and what we say to ourselves impacts our mood and motivation.

If we frequently say negative things, we're creating a mental environment relevant to depression. Positive thinking, on the other hand, triggers positive emotions. And while controlling all aspects of depression isn't possible, this is one aspect we do have some power over.


Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes that you can make that may help you cope with your symptoms. Doing things like getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, and staying connected with loved ones can help you manage your condition.

Coping With Sadness

Here are some ways to experience normal sadness in a healthy way and to allow this emotion to enrich your life:

  • Allow yourself to be sad. Denying such feelings may force them underground, where they can do more damage with time. Cry if you feel like it. Notice if you feel relief after the tears stop.
  • If you are feeling sad, plan a day to wallow. Plan a day or evening just to be alone, listen to melancholy music, and observe your thoughts and feelings. Planning time to be unhappy can actually feel good and can help you ultimately move past the sadness into a happier mood.
  • Think and/or write about the context of the sad feelings. Are you sad because of a loss or an unhappy event? It's usually not as simple as discovering the cause of the sadness, but understanding why you're sad and exploring those feelings can help you feel better.
  • Take a walk. Sometimes some fresh air and a little quiet time can change your perspective.
  • Call a close friend or family member. Sometimes venting your feelings can help you process them.
  • Be kind to yourself. This may include a hot bubble bath, indulging in a nap, or splurging for some really good chocolate.
  • Let yourself laugh. Fire up a favorite comedy and binge watch it for a while, or find a funny YouTube video.
  • Consider starting a gratitude journal. Focusing on the positive, even if you can only think of one thing to be grateful for per day, helps you to shift away from the negative, sad feelings.
  • Remember that sadness can result from a change that you didn't expect, or it can signal the need for a change in your life. Change is usually stressful, but it is necessary for growth. If you're sad because you need to change something, think about the steps you can change to make your life more joyful.

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A Word From Verywell

Finding ways to overcome sadness or depression can get you back to feeling like your normal self. While normal sadness is usually temporary and can often be relieved with lifestyle adjustments, you should talk to your doctor if your symptoms last longer than two weeks. If what you are feeling is depression, there are effective treatments available, including medication and psychotherapy, that can help.

If you or a loved one are struggling with sadness or depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Leonard Holmes, PhD
Leonard Holmes, PhD, is a pioneer of the online therapy field and a clinical psychologist specializing in chronic pain and anxiety.