We all get a little blue or sad sometimes. But what’s the difference between those emotions and a mood disorder such as depression? The type of symptoms, their intensity, and duration, among other factors. Let’s take a closer look at feeling blue, sad, or depressed and when to seek professional help.
Am I Blue?
Some historians believe the use of the word blue to indicate a temporary state of melancholy originated with Greek myths. Blue as an emotion has also been referenced in medieval literature, 18th century dictionaries and yes, blues music.
It’s totally normal to have one of “those” days. Your thoughts are cloudy and perhaps a bit negative. You motor through your typical daily routine, but there just seems to be a shadow over everything. Maybe you had bad dreams the night before. Perhaps something you were hoping for didn’t pan out, or you feel discouraged about a situation at work or in a relationship. You might also be a bit overwhelmed.
Symptoms of blue moods usually involve trouble sleeping, no appetite, and a general lethargy. Generally, they last for a couple of days at most as you try to process your feelings.
Fortunately, you can usually lift yourself up without too much effort—try these tips from Happiness.com:
- Have a good laugh with a favorite program or podcast.
- Have coffee or dinner with someone close to you.
- Explore nature and do something you enjoy, such as a pleasant walk in the park or taking photographs.
- Immerse yourself in a favorite hobby so you can get into more of a flow state and feel a sense of satisfaction.
Am I Sad?
Some people equate feeling blue with sadness, and in some cases, this is true. However, there’s another level of sadness that’s a little deeper. Typical causes might include losing a promotion, suffering a bad breakup, experiencing some financial strain, grieving the loss of a pet, or feeling lonely.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) states that “sadness is a normal reaction to a loss, disappointment, problems, or other difficult situations. Feeling sad from time to time is just another part of being human.”
Sadness symptoms differ for each of us but often include fatigue, not feeling motivated, crying, a loss of appetite, a preoccupation with the situation, and difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much. Depending on the cause, sadness can last for a week or two, but the CMHA notes that if it goes away on its own and doesn’t impact your life in a big way, it’s probably not depression.
How can you move beyond sadness? Try some of the blue mood lifts in little ways so you can appreciate life more. Also try:
- Lean into the emotion. Acknowledge it, give it a name like Leroy or Ethel, and don’t try to stifle it.
- Journal your thoughts and feelings. This helps you process every aspect about what happened and enables you to move forward.
- Reach out for help. Whether it’s with a trusted friend or a qualified professional, you deserve to feel better by discussing the difficult situation and using healthy ways to move through it.
Am I Depressed?
A mood disorder like depression may extend from feeling blue or sad, or it may be a completely different condition caused by numerous factors. Symptoms like the ones mentioned above are more intense, and may also include:
- Prolonged insomnia
- Feelings of worthlessness, emptiness, and guilt
- Significant weight gain or loss
- Greater fatigue and lethargy
- A loss of interest in people and activities
- Maladaptive behaviors such as drinking or doing drugs
- Anger or irritation
- Thoughts of suicide
Depressive episodes last longer than two weeks and require professional treatment, including different forms of therapy, behavioral modifications, lifestyle changes, and possibly medication.
Different depressive disorders occur when someone has a brain chemical imbalance, such as constant fluctuations in neurotransmitters.
An individual who had adverse childhood experiences, other trauma, complicated grief, and other issues may develop clinical depression.
Depression can exist with co-occurring mental health disorders such as anxiety, as well as physical health issues such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and hormonal disorders, to name a few.
Studies indicate that women experience depression more than men. Although the exact reasons are unknown, the leading speculation is due to hormonal fluctuations, such as those during menstruation, menopause, and pregnancy and childbirth (resulting in postpartum depression).
People with a family history of depression and other mental illnesses are often more at risk, but environmental factors can be a trigger to developing a condition.
Illicit drugs and prescription medication
Depression can be a serious side effect of substances, including but not limited to:
- Corticosteroids like prednisone
Unfortunately, certain antidepressant medication can worsen symptoms as well.
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If you’re having suicidal thoughts, please contact the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988.