Feeling sad

Written by Rebecca Wright

Rebecca Wright

Counselling Directory Content Team

Brand and Social Strategist

Last updated on 20th February, 2019

Feeling down? You're not alone. Everyone feels sad at times. Sadness is a natural human emotion and, like other emotions, sad feelings come and go; they’re normal reactions to the twists and turns of life. How sad you feel can depend on the situation that's causing the sadness, and how you're coping with it; some sad feelings are brief, whilst others last much longer.

Why do I feel so sad?

People feel sad for a variety of reasons - everyone is different and will deal with life events in their own way. Sadness can be triggered by an argument with a relative, a breakup, or a close friend moving to another city. You might feel disappointed about your performance at work or school, or feel discouraged if your favourite sports team can't break its losing streak.

Sadness is sometimes circumstantial. Your feelings may be triggered by the seasons, as a result of the weather and daylight. If this is the case, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder. Or, your sadness may have been triggered by distressing events in your life that are out of your control, such as losing a loved one. This can lead to a specific kind of sadness - grief.

It’s also possible that more than one thing is causing you to feel sad; it may be a combination of any one of the above factors, plus many more.

Feeling sad for no reason

It’s important to try and figure out what is causing you to feel sad. Try and notice how you feel, when, and why. But, if you can’t figure out the reason, it can be hard to take control of your feelings and overcome them. There isn’t always an easy explanation for why you’re feeling sad. Sometimes it might feel like there’s no apparent reason for why you feel this way. This might be a result of biological factors and natural changes in your body, such as hormones, which can also trigger sadness.

Feeling sad all the time

It’s normal to feel down sometimes, but, if sad thoughts are stopping you from enjoying life, then something needs to change.

Counsellor Sonia Cerqueira explores the difference between sadness and depression:

Temporary sadness, even unexplained, does not prevent you from enjoying the activities that give you pleasure, such as sharing a meal with friends, playing with your children or practising your favourite sport.

If this sadness persists and invades all spheres of your life, then it can be the beginning of depression. A person with depression may have every reason to be happy, yet they have lost the ability to feel joy or pleasure.

The difference between feeling sad and depression

People sometimes say they're feeling depressed when they're having a bad day. But depression is a mental health condition that affects sufferers every day for long periods of time. This is a key difference between feeling sad and having depression - sadness comes and goes with relative speed and ease. Depression is constant and oppressive.

A low mood that doesn't go away can be a sign of depression, but there are also many other possible symptoms. Ask yourself if the following are true for you:

  • low mood lasting for several weeks (two weeks or more)
  • getting no enjoyment out of life, or feeling hopeless
  • sleeping more than usual, or being unable to sleep - which makes you feel tired or lacking in energy
  • unable to concentrate on everyday activities, like reading or watching television
  • comfort eating or loss of appetite
  • having suicidal thoughts or thoughts about harming yourself

Read more on the difference between feeling sad and depression on Happiful.

I don’t think I have depression - will people take me seriously?

Worrying too much about what other people will think won’t help you feel better. Worse still, ignoring your feelings may only make things worse. You might think you’re feeling sad when, actually, you’re struggling with depression. This confusion can lead you to neglect a serious condition that requires attention from a professional.

Take your mental health and well-being seriously, just as you would for someone that you love. If you’re not sure if you have depression, it is better to seek help and talk to someone, than to do nothing at all.

The first step should be talking to your GP, who will be able to help you find out more about depression. They can discuss treatment options with you, such as self-help, talking therapies and antidepressants.

How can counselling help with sadness?

Having meetings with a counsellor or therapist can help to overcome feelings of sadness or depression, and resolve underlying issues to prevent you from feeling like this in the future. Talking to a professional can help you to:

  • understand your emotions, by putting your feelings into words
  • feel understood and supported
  • build your confidence and self-esteem, to become more self-accepting
  • work out the problems that you face
  • change negative thinking patterns

There are many types of talking therapies, which have been proven as effective treatments for low mood. Therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy can help you to make sense of what can feel like an overwhelming problem, by breaking it down into more manageable parts.

Overcoming depression itself might include counselling, therapy, medication, or a combination of different treatments. A counsellor might recommend daily exercise, exposure to daylight, or better ways of eating. A therapist might also teach relaxation skills to help someone get a good night's sleep.

Remember, there is no one treatment that will work for everyone - people respond differently to different types of treatment, so what works for one person may not be the answer for you. 

Finding support

You don’t have to suffer in silence or deal with these feelings alone. Try and talk to someone you trust - a problem shared is a problem halved. Simply opening up and saying something like, "I've been feeling really down lately" can be a good way to start the conversation. 

Whether it’s your parents, teachers, colleagues, friends, doctor, or counsellor, let other people who care about your well-being offer their support. They can listen to how you feel and show you that they understand. They can be there for you through the ups and downs, keep you company and do enjoyable things with you.

If confiding in someone close to you seems scary, there are other ways to find support. Sometimes it might feel easier to open up to someone that doesn’t know you. Mental health charities, such as Mind, not only provide information about mental health but also offer advice on how to deal with different conditions and feelings. They often partner with other organisations to provide support in the form of community groups and events, which enable you to form your own network.

If meeting people face-to-face is worrying you, you may find that being part of an online community is of more comfort. Consider online forums - this can be a place for you to vent, ask for advice, or simply read other people’s experiences.

How to stop feeling sad

It's OK to have sad feelings at times - as long as they don't happen too often or last too long. Remember, sad feelings, like all emotions, are just a natural part of life.

Most of the time, we can deal with these feelings and get past them with a little patience and time. But it doesn't feel good to stay sad and it can lead to further problems if it continues for too long.

So, try to remind yourself of a few key things:

You can cope and overcome feeling like this: You’re strong and each time you get over this, you become stronger and better at coping with your feelings. Learning how to deal with these feelings can make a huge difference in your life.

There are things you can do to help you feel better and improve your mood: Try not to isolate yourself - this can make your sadness worse and can also create a sense of loneliness. Put yourself in a good mood; surround yourself with people and things that you love and do things that you enjoy.

A positive attitude is the best way forward: Life is not always happy and everyone has times in their lives when sad things happen. Thinking about happy times ahead and focusing on the positives in your life can help you through. Count down to planned events and things that make you happy and bounce back from disappointments or failures as quickly as you can. Think positively - think of solutions to what’s causing you to feel sad. Focusing on positive emotions and being with positive people can help too.

5 ways to help yourself

Trying some simple actions can help you to feel better and may prevent you from feeling this way in the future:

  • Eat healthy foods, getting the balance right between foods that are good for your body, and foods that are good for your soul.
  • Get the right amount of sleep and keep it regular - don’t think that four hours of sleep will be enough in the week and then sleep all weekend.
  • Walk, play, or do something else to get exercise every day. Exercise can help to improve your self-image, your health and your mood.
  • Take time to relax - give yourself time to do things that you enjoy, whatever that is.
  • Take time to notice the good things about life, no matter how small.

Trying even just one of these could have a powerful effect on your mood; restore positive emotions and a feeling of well-being.

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