It’s typical to feel sad occasionally. But, when you’re sadder than usual, it’s common to describe your feelings as, “depressed.” However, just because you feel extreme sadness, doesn’t mean you have clinical depression. But how is it possible to tell the difference? Along with reading this article, we recommend getting in touch with a therapy matching service, like Advekit, if you are concerned about your mental health.
Sadness is a normal reaction to a loss, disappointment, or other difficult situations. Feeling sad from time to time is a part of being human. In these instances, feelings of sadness go away quickly and don’t normally impact daily life for any prolonged period of time.
Whether you’ve lost a loved one, moved to a new place, or missed out on a job opportunity, there are plenty of stressful and upsetting events that can get you down. However, the difference between sadness and depression is that sadness usually passes with a little time, while depression is a mood disorder that can appear without any specific cause and last for two weeks or more.
Other ways to talk about sadness might be ‘feeling low,’ ‘feeling down,’ or ‘feeling blue.’ A person may say they are feeling ‘depressed,’ but if it goes away on its own and doesn’t impact life in a big way, it probably isn’t clinical depression.
What does depression feel like? Well, depression involves a lot more than sadness; it’s a mental health condition that encompasses multiple symptoms like chronic exhaustion (if you are wondering, “Why do I get depressed at night?” exhausting yourself during the day might help you fall asleep faster), loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy, or even thoughts of death and suicide. Depression affects your mood, the way you understand yourself, and the way you relate to things around you. There are also physical symptoms of severe depression, such as problems with sleep, appetite and energy and unexplainable aches or pains. Some may experience difficult thoughts about death or ending their life.
Depression impacts almost every part of your life, interfering with how you think, feel, and go about your daily activities like sleeping, working, and socializing. Some common symptoms of depressed mood include:
lack of energy
difficulty sleeping or sleeping more than normal
changes in appetite or weight
feelings of hopelessness
loss of interest in hobbies or activities
irritability or restlessness
aches and pains without clear physical causes
thoughts of death or suicide
To be diagnosed with depression, including high functioning depression, these symptoms must be present nearly all day, every day for at least two weeks.
It can also be referred to by different names, such as clinical depression, major depressive disorder, or major depression. Depression can come up for no reason, and it lasts for a long time. It’s much more than sadness or low mood. Clinical depression can be diagnosed if enough symptoms last at least two weeks at a time. These symptoms can be triggered by a traumatic event or can seemingly come out of nowhere. Clinical depression should be taken very seriously and we have written in detail about why it is important to identify and treat clinical depression.
Aside from sadness, stress is another negative influence that can mimic signs and symptoms of clinical depression, but they are very different. If you are feeling overwhelmed by stress, you are not alone. Stress is good if it motivates you but it's bad if it wears you down. Many factors can contribute to the stress you experience, and this stress can in turn cause changes in your body that affect your overall physical, mental, and emotional health.
How do you tell the difference between stress and a depressive episode? Both can affect you in similar ways, but there are key differences. Symptoms of depression can be much more intense and they last at least two weeks. Depression causes powerful mood changes, such as painful sadness and despair that even the most stressful situations would not induce.
Below are signs and symptoms of both stress and depression so you can see the similarities and differences.
Problems with memory
Change in eating habits
Feeling nervous or anxious
Feeling angry, irritable or easily frustrated
Feeling burned out from studying or schoolwork
Feeling that you can't overcome difficulties in your life
Trouble functioning in class or in your personal life
Withdrawing from other people
Feeling sad and hopeless
Lack of energy, enthusiasm and motivation
Trouble making decisions
Being restless, agitated and irritable
Eating more or less than usual
Sleeping more or less than usual
Trouble with memory
Feeling bad about yourself or feeling guilty
Anger and rage
Feeling that you can't overcome difficulties in your life
Trouble functioning in your class or in your personal life
Thoughts of suicide
If you are stressed out, there are many constructive ways to get relief, once you pinpoint what is really causing the stress. Think of as many possible causes as you can, and write them down. Now brainstorm for solutions that will reduce the stress. A trusted friend, family member or counselor may be able to offer some good ideas as well. Then choose a few solutions to start tackling the issues. If they are complicated, break them down into manageable chunks. Give your plan a try. If one particular solution doesn't help, try another one. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. It's all a part of the process. Remember to take breaks when you feel worried or stuck.
Although some people’s depression can be influenced by major life events, depression can happen to anyone without cause or warning. In fact, depression is one of the most common mood disorders; 8.7% of women and 5.3% of men experience depression every year. Research has suggested that factors such as genetics, biology, environment, and psychology can all play a role in depression.
It’s important to note that depression exists on a scale from mild to severe, but even in mild cases it should be taken seriously. Depression is not simply a “bad mood” or something that someone can “snap out of,” but luckily it is very treatable.
Although depression can become a very clinical subject, many of the ways to help yourself through this mood disorder, and sadness unrelated to depression, are very simple and practical. Self-care is a key component to living a happy, healthy life and between your diet, exercise, daily routines, and social interactions there are plenty of steps you can take to influence your mood.
What you eat can have a significant impact on the way your body and mind feel. It’s best to stick to a healthy balance of fruits, vegetables, and proteins that will improve energy levels and keep you energized. Avoid skipping meals and be sure to eat meals at regular times to help you maintain a routine throughout the day. Additionally, you should limit the amount of caffeine and alcohol you drink, which can negatively impact your mood.
Studies have shown that just doing fifteen minutes of moderate exercise a day can significantly decrease symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression. This is because exercise helps to break down stress hormones like cortisol while simultaneously releasing feel-good endorphins. However, not every activity needs to get your heart pumping and sweat running to be an effective tool against depression. Experts recommend getting at least thirty minutes of activity each day to help regulate your mood as well as improve your overall health and protect against other risks like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you're like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.
Treatment for SAD may include light therapy (phototherapy), medications and psychotherapy.
Before seeking more formal treatment, it’s worth trying to get outside more often. Sunlight and darkness trigger different hormones in your brain and too much time spent inside can have a huge impact on your mood. Along with boosting your serotonin levels, spending some time outside can help increase Vitamin D production, lower your blood pressure, build stronger bones, and allow you to get more quality sleep. We’ve also written an article discussing the opposite of this titled, “How Does Depression Affect the Brain?”.
Sleep is something that can quickly influence every other part of your life, especially if you’re not sleeping well. Depression and sleep go hand in hand because a lack of sleep may cause or contribute to depressive symptoms and depression can cause sleep problems, ultimately impairing your ability to function on a daily basis. To support a healthy sleep cycle, make sure that you keep a regular bedtime and waking up schedule, avoid taking naps, and get into bright light soon after waking up to trigger your natural circadian rhythm.
Even if you are experiencing mild depression or a “funk,” you might find yourself drawing away from others, avoiding social situations, or not wanting to burden people with your feelings. One of the hardest but most helpful things you can do to manage depression is to find that strong support circle and spend time with the people you love. Schedule times to visit with family and friends or plan to grab lunch with a coworker so you have a specific time and place where you can lean on others when you’re feeling blue.
One important way that you can get through any difficult situation is to be kind to yourself. Remember that it’s not your fault if you are feeling depressed. Be your own ally and show yourself plenty of compassion as you work through challenging situations and days where it seems like nothing will ever make you feel better. Depression is a highly treatable disorder and you can come out on the other side.
Any level of prolonged negative feelings should be taken seriously, and the faster you address the symptoms, the less likely you are to develop a more severe type of depression. A mental health professional can offer more clinical advice and guide you through treatment with approaches that are more tailored to your specific situation and needs. However, if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, tell someone you trust and seek assistance immediately.
Everyone experiences low points in their life and their mental health, but depression is a treatable mental illness and you can recover. Whether you or a loved one is feeling depressed, every person’s experience with mental illness is different but help is available. Advekit can help you get matched with a therapist for depression today.