Depression, Sadness, And What To Do

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The words “depression” and “sadness” are closely linked. In the past years, as the intricacies of mental health become more mainstream knowledge, the two words have become better defined in the public’s dictionary. One is a disorder; the other, an emotion. However, there is biochemical interplay between the two; the levels of neurotransmitters that create feelings of sadness are related to symptoms of major depressive order.

The meanings of emotion and disorder can overlap. From here on in, “depression” will be used to identify the disorder, “sadness” will be used for the emotion. Both the symptoms of the disorder depression and expressions of the feeling of sadness are exhibited differently from person to person. However, depression as an emotion (sadness) is a symptom of depression the disorder for every person. Depression and sadness are not mutually exclusive, hence the confusion over sadness and depression. The distinction is important to make. Sadness is a powerful emotion; depression is a medical disorder.

The mood disorder, as stated before, is far more intricate than a single emotion. Other common symptoms of depression include changes in appetite, fatigue, thoughts of suicide, and many more. Please consult a medical professional if you believe you may have depression. The National Suicide Prevention LifeLine can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

That is not to say that advice for remedying sadness should be ignored by those with major depressive order. Activities to alleviate sadness can alleviate symptoms of depression. While the disorder is treated through medicine and therapies, steps can still be taken on your own to help cope with depression; many of these steps are the same as steps taken to help cope with sadness. This is especially true because depression can make sadness more severe and vice versa; bereavement can bring on major depression.

The neurotransmitter most commonly associated with depression is serotonin. While there is not substantial evidence to scientifically validate that low serotonin levels cause depression, there is definitive correlation -- this is why Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors are commonly used to treat depression. Serotonin levels are also related to confidence; higher levels of serotonin seem to lessen rejection sensitivity and thus build confidence.

It is possible to raise your serotonin levels naturally (this does not take the place of medication, but still helps). Light exposure has been shown to increase serotonin levels. Exercise is also thought to increase serotonin, so taking a walk can get you moving and increase your exposure to light. If you’re inside for most waking hours, or live in a particularly rainy place, consider investing in a light box to increase your exposure.

Lower levels of another neurotransmitter, dopamine, is also related to depression. Best known for its effects on drug addiction due to its relation to reward, dopamine is more complicated than simply motivating action. This neurotransmitter helps prioritize activities in relation to your personal interest. Several common symptoms of depression are linked with dopamine, including reduced motivation and anhedonia (an inability to feel pleasure). Sadness makes it hard to stay motivated. Set small goals that are easily achievable as well as productive to help increase your levels of dopamine.

Create a checklist of activities to do when you are feeling bad and keep the list at hand. The easier it is to get to, the more likely you are to use it. Fill the list with small things you can do to alleviate the feelings of sadness. For example:

  • Take a walk

  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator

  • Wipe down the kitchen counters

  • Organize your work space

  • Put on a song and dance

  • Take a break and doodle

Other items should include steps to check in with yourself so you can better understand the factors that affect your mood (try these tips). This is good for those with or without depression; tracking what influences your symptoms and/or emotions can help identify problems in your life (such as certain work situations) or triggers. Asking questions can help clarify these things:

  • How am I feeling?

  • What made me realize I was feeling this way?

  • What’s going on in my life? Do these things contribute to this feeling?

Whether it is sadness or depression you are dealing with, reaching out is another excellent way to get help. Tell a friend how you are feeling and talk it out. Therapy can help, no matter what the diagnosis is. The most important thing to do when overcome with sadness, on its own or as part of depression, is to work through it. As hard as it is to remember, things do not have to stay the way they are. There is a better option, but you have to work for it. And you are worth that work.