All About Sadness: Causes, Coping Strategies & When to Seek Help

Dr. Serenity
April 13, 2023

Although sadness is often viewed as a negative emotion, mental health experts argue that it can be helpful in certain situations. Depression and sadness are not the same, and understanding the difference is key to managing your emotions. In this article, we explore the causes of sadness, its impact on mental health, and provide coping strategies to help you manage this emotion. We also discuss when it may be time to seek professional help.


Understanding Sadness: What It Is, How It Differs from Anger, and When It Might Be Depression

Sadness is an emotion that most people have experienced at one point or another. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), sadness is “an emotional state of unhappiness, ranging in intensity from mild to extreme and usually aroused by the loss of something that is highly valued.” In this article, we will explore the differences between sadness and anger, how sadness serves a purpose, and when it might be an indicator of depression.

The Difference Between Sadness and Anger

Although both sadness and anger can feel distressing, researchers have outlined that these emotions serve different purposes. Anger often arises in response to a perceived injustice, according to the APA. It motivates people to deal with a problem and can be useful in overcoming resistance, says Joseph Forgas, a doctor of science in psychology and professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

In contrast, sadness acts as a mild alert that you are in an unfamiliar situation, and you need to be careful, says Dr. Forgas. Sadness causes changes in thinking and behavior that might prompt you to withdraw and reflect, as opposed to the quick action of anger.

The Difference Between Sadness and Depression

Persistent sadness is one of the two defining symptoms of a major depressive episode, according to the APA. However, experiencing sadness is not equivalent to having depression. In nondepressed individuals, sadness comes and goes. But when sadness is experienced intensely and for an extended period, accompanied by other hallmark depression symptoms like lack of interest or pleasure in most activities, fatigue, and changes in appetite, it may indicate the presence of a depressive disorder.

Depression tends to be debilitating and can make it challenging to perform everyday tasks. Unlike everyday sad moods that occur to everyone, depression is a serious disease with severe consequences. It is important to note that depression does not look the same in everyone, making it difficult to recognize sometimes.

How Can You Tell if It’s Depression or Everyday Sadness?

It can be difficult to differentiate between everyday sadness and depression. However, if you experience symptoms such as fatigue, changes in appetite, withdrawing from friends, feeling low energy, and inability to feel happy over a two-week period, it is essential to consider talking to your doctor about getting screened for a mood disorder.


Understanding What Causes Sadness

Sadness is a common emotion that is often triggered by the loss of something that is highly valued. This loss could be anything that we hold dear, whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a job, a relationship, or even a future we had envisioned for ourselves.

According to Steven C. Hayes, PhD, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Nevada in Reno, sadness involves an element of emotional time travel. He explains that sadness can occur when we look backward in time to something we once had or project forward and anticipate that our expectations won’t be met. For example, recent political upheaval may trigger sadness in people who hold an expectation for a future world that is more cooperative and kind, and that is threatened by current events.

This suggests that sadness-inducing losses tend to touch on something that we deeply care about. It’s important to recognize that sadness is a natural human emotion that can be useful in the right context. However, when sadness becomes intense or persistent and starts interfering with daily life, it may be a sign of depression and should be addressed with professional help.


Exploring the Experience of Sadness: Recognizing Its Characteristics and Finding Your Own Description

Introduction: Understanding Sadness and Its Multiple Meanings

Sadness is a universal human emotion that can be experienced in response to a variety of situations, such as loss, disappointment, or failure. While sadness is a common emotion, it can manifest differently in individuals, making it important to recognize its telltale characteristics. Furthermore, understanding how sadness feels to you can help you better cope with and manage this emotion.

Recognizing the Characteristics of Sadness

According to a 2020 review published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, sadness can be recognized through the following signs:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Decrease in reward seeking
  • Slowed movement
  • Down-turned mouth
  • Drooping or downcast eyes
  • Slanted inner eyebrows
  • Slumped posture
  • Increased or decreased heart rate
  • Increased or decreased skin conductance

Additionally, individuals who are experiencing sadness may describe feeling lonely, distressed, depressed, anxious, or grief.

Exploring the Different Meanings of Sadness

The word “sadness” has multiple meanings, and different experiences can map onto these meanings. For example, a 2017 study published in Frontiers in Psychology compared sadness caused by imagining the death of a loved one and sadness caused by imagining failing to reach a goal. Even though participants in both groups felt sad, the two types of sadness were associated with distinct physical and psychological responses.

Finding Your Own Description of Sadness

It can be helpful to find your own way of describing what sadness feels like to you. According to Deb Dana, LCSW, a clinician and consultant specializing in complex trauma and author of Anchored: How to Befriend Your Nervous System Using Polyvagal Theory, comparing and contrasting your experience of sadness with its opposite, happiness, can be a useful exercise. For example, Dana describes happiness as moving through the world with lightness, while sadness comes with a heavy feeling in her body. By exploring these extremes, you may be better able to notice more subtle versions of these emotions.

Conclusion: Recognizing and Coping with Sadness

While sadness can be a difficult emotion to experience, understanding its characteristics and finding your own description of what it feels like can help you better recognize and cope with it. By taking the time to explore your own experience of sadness, you may be better equipped to manage this emotion and navigate its impact on your life.


The Impact of Sadness on Health and Well-Being

Sadness is an emotion that performs an important function by helping us respond to our circumstances in ways that promote emotional health and well-being. Despite its negative associations, research suggests that sadness may not have as many negative implications for health as other distressing emotions like anger. In fact, many positive benefits come from mild, temporary sad moods. This article reviews the positive impacts of sadness and explains when sadness can be unhealthy.

  1. Sadness Can Help Broaden Your Thinking

When people feel sad, they tend to pay more attention to what is happening around them. This approach helps them think more clearly in different ways. Research has shown that people have better eyewitness memory when in a slightly worse mood. People also had improved recall and attention to the environment, even on what researchers called “sad mood days.”

  1. Sadness Can Help You Communicate Better

Contrary to what you might think, people in a negative mood appear to communicate better than those in a positive one. They are better at understanding ambiguities in sentences, persuading other people, and stating how they feel in difficult conversations.

  1. Sadness Can Help With Social Connection

One of the primary functions of sadness is to signal the need for social support. When someone is sad, others have an innate urge to assist them. Research shows that sad facial expressions and tears signal to others that they could use help. People in a negative mood tend to be more fair toward others, while also more polite.

  1. Sadness Can Help You Accept Tough Realities

Sadness helps individuals accept tough situations and come to terms with loss. It promotes coping and causes changes in thinking and behavior that help people adapt to loss and move forward based on new circumstances.

  1. Sadness May Be Motivation for Healthy Behavior Changes

Sadness increases healthy intentions such as quitting smoking or increasing exercise. People who are sad may feel empowered to make healthy changes because they believe circumstances are controllable.

  1. If Sadness Becomes Depression, Health Suffers

Depression is a clinically diagnosed mood disorder that can occur when sadness persists and is accompanied by other symptoms. Research has linked depression to a host of health issues such as heart disease, stroke, and impaired immune function.


Sadness, like all emotions, serves an important function by helping us respond to our circumstances in ways that set us up to take better care of our emotional health and well-being. It broadens our thinking, helps us communicate better, strengthens social connections, helps us accept tough realities, and motivates healthy behavior changes. However, when sadness becomes depression, it can be bad for our health. Therefore, we must pay attention to our emotional states and seek professional help when needed.


How to Manage Sadness: Tips for Coping

Feeling sad is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. However, when it becomes chronic or interferes with daily life, it’s important to seek professional help. In this article, we’ll discuss some science-backed tips for managing sadness and when to seek support.

  • Allow Yourself to Feel Sadness

According to Hayes, a healthy response to sadness begins with allowing yourself to feel the emotion. Mindfulness practices like meditation and prayer can help you notice your sadness without judging it. In time, these practices allow you to stay present with the feeling without becoming overwhelmed.

  • Dial Down the Intensity

Feeling sad doesn’t mean you have to spend hours alone wallowing or feeling bad, says Hayes. Instead, Kross suggests dialing down the intensity of the feeling and shortening its duration. Kross has put together a list of science-backed tools that can help with this, including spending time in nature, which can have a calming effect.

  • Learn From Sadness

One benefit of sadness comes from learning from it. According to Hayes, emotions can be seen as gentle guides that provide information about our present moment. When you take time to reflect on this information, you can learn something that allows you to move on.

  • Seek Professional Help

If your sadness persists for more than two weeks or interferes with daily life, it’s important to seek professional help. Kross suggests using coping tools, but if they aren’t helping, it’s time to reach out for support. Barlow emphasizes that chronic sadness is a valid reason to seek help.

  • Other Strategies

In addition to mindfulness practices and seeking professional help, there are other strategies for coping with sadness. Normalizing the feeling and experiencing awe are two such strategies. Practicing mindfulness can also help manage sadness.


Sadness is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences at some point. It’s important to allow yourself to feel the emotion, dial down its intensity, and learn from it. If your sadness persists or interferes with daily life, seek professional help. There are other strategies like practicing mindfulness and experiencing awe that can also help manage sadness.


Our Favorite Resources for Coping with Sadness

Sadness is a universal human experience that can leave you feeling overwhelmed and alone. Fortunately, there are a variety of resources available to help you navigate this difficult emotion. In this article, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite organizations, websites, movies, and resources that can support you on your journey.

  • Favorite Orgs for Depression Info

If you’re looking for reliable information about depression, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is an excellent resource. As a federal agency dedicated to researching mental disorders, NIMH provides a wealth of free educational materials, research updates, and support for emotional wellness. Their infographics on mood disorders can be particularly helpful for visual thinkers who want clear information about depression and where to get help.

Another great resource is the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), an international nonprofit dedicated to preventing, treating, and curing anxiety and depression. ADAA hosts a free peer-to-peer community on its website, which can be a great place to connect with others who are experiencing similar challenges. The website also features personal stories and other resources to help you feel less alone.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the largest mental health nonprofit in the United States, and their website is packed with helpful resources. One of the things we love most about NAMI is their support groups, which are free and open to anyone who is looking for support with mental health challenges, including persistent sadness. You don’t need an official diagnosis to join, and the groups are geared toward both individuals and their families.

  • Favorite Movies

Movies can be a powerful way to explore and understand complex emotions like sadness. One of our favorites is Inside Out, a 2015 Disney movie that provides a sophisticated take on our core emotions: joy, anger, fear, disgust, and sadness. The way sadness is portrayed in the film beautifully illustrates what experts say about this emotion and the way it can help us change our goals and beliefs in the face of loss. Inside Out has even been referenced in a science-based book chapter about sadness.

  • Favorite Resources for Managing Feelings

If you’re looking for practical tips for managing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Chatter Toolbox (PDF) may be just what you need. Compiled by researcher Ethan Kross, this toolbox includes 10 quick and simple strategies for dealing with unpleasant emotions like sadness. Kross says that these tips can be helpful for anyone experiencing difficult emotions, and they can be especially effective when used alongside other coping strategies.

In conclusion, sadness can be a challenging emotion to navigate, but there are many resources available to help you cope. Whether you’re looking for information, support, or strategies for managing your feelings, we hope that these resources will be helpful to you on your journey toward emotional wellness.

Author Dr. Serenity

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