Many individuals may experience depression at some point in their lives. While depression is common, about one in ten individuals may experience moderate to severe symptoms of it. Depending on the severity level of depression, it can significantly impact one’s quality of life. Many of us may use the terms depression and sadness interchangeably because sadness and depression share many of the same symptoms. Although depression and sadness may share similarities, they are different. Let’s explore some of these differences and what we can do to better cope with these symptoms.
Sadness vs. depression
It is normal to experience feelings of sadness and despair in response to adverse events. Sadness may include feelings of disappointment, loss, major life events, or stress. In many cases, feelings of sadness may resolve as you come to terms with changes in your life. In some situations, feelings of sadness may persist over longer periods of time. For example, if you’ve lost a loved one, the feeling of sadness may persist for an extended period of time. Important events may bring up memories, experiences, future hopes, etc. which may bring up painful feelings. The key difference between sadness and depression is that sadness is a normal, painful response to challenging life events. Usually, when the challenging event passes, we come to terms with changes, and those feelings of sadness may subside.
Depression differs from sadness in that it may or may not include feelings of sadness. Moreover, it may or may not arise out of a painful experience so that a person may not be able to identify a reason for their symptoms. Depression may lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems that can limit a person’s ability to function at home or at work. Oftentimes, people lack motivation and lose interest in enjoyable activities. Depression is a more persistent experience than sadness and often includes a cluster of symptoms. These include changes in appetite, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, loss of energy or increased fatigue, feelings of worthlessness difficult time thinking, concentrating, or making decisions, hopelessness and thoughts of suicide.
Downward spiral of depression
Oftentimes, people describe feelings that their depressive symptoms become one big overwhelming mess and it feels like everything is spiraling out of control. For example, you may make a simple mistake at work. This may feel like a minor inconvenience when everything feels okay. However, with depression, you may see the mistake, feel sad, irritable, and even experience hopelessness about your professional career. You may experience fear that you will fail in your professional pursuits, which may lead to loss of your appetite, feeling exhausted, difficult time concentrating, etc. In these moments, it may be helpful to take a step back and reflect on how the symptoms started or where they are now.
Why do we care about this information?
Developing an understanding of our experiences and beginning to label these experiences are when we start to do something different. These tactics are powerful because knowing what is taking place in our lives empowers us to act with intention and manage symptoms of depression.
Ways to cope with depression
- Self Care: Basic self-care may include various ways that we look after ourselves physically, emotionally, and mentally. While self-care may look different from person to person, there are types of self-care that are recommended for everyone such as getting good sleep, physical activity, and eating nutritious foods.
- Sleep: We know from research that we need 7-8 hours of sleep every night to perform optimally. While we’re asleep, our brain is at work forming pathways for consolidating information we’ve taken in that day. Moreover, sleep helps regulate our mood and weight. We know that sleep deprivation impacts your mood, your energy, and your ability to focus and concentrate.
- Exercise: Based on research, exercise is important to combating symptoms of depression. Exercise leads to positive changes by releasing endorphins in our brain that can improve our mood, energy levels, and concentration. As exercise becomes consistent, it promotes long term changes in the brain resulting in improved memory, mood, and self-esteem.
- Nutrition: it’s important to highlight the importance of nutrition in coping with depression. When experiencing depression, many people notice changes in their appetites and/or eating patterns. Based on research, individuals that are experiencing depression are lacking in vitamins and minerals that are linked to mood. When experiencing depression, focus on staying hydrated and work toward a well balanced diet. It can be challenging to make significant changes to your diet. It may be helpful to introduce one or two vegetables to balance out the diet.
Sometimes, we can hold misconceptions about depression that may be harmful to us or the people who are suffering from depression. Often, we may minimize our emotional responses by telling ourselves that our concerns or experiences aren’t that important or we’re being too dramatic. This pattern of thinking can contribute to the pattern of depressive symptoms and reinforce our beliefs that our needs are not important.
We know that depressive symptoms including thoughts, behaviors, emotions, and physiology can feed off each other, reinforcing depression. The good news is that making small changes in one of these areas can have a ripple effect across the entire experience of depression.
If you are struggling with depression, reach out to one of our therapists and we will be glad to work with you in developing a personalized treatment plan to work through your symptoms. Don’t hesitate to schedule your first appointment toward living a more meaningful and fulfilling life!
Written by therapist Viktor Terpay