Sadness

It’s OK to feel sad sometimes: It’s part of being a human. But when sadness becomes all-consuming and overwhelming, it may be a sign that extra steps need to be taken to care for yourself. This guide will help you identify and understand when to take those steps.
Woman looking out a window

What is it?

Most of the time, we feel sad in response to something in our lives that felt hurtful or like a loss. But not all of the time. We can be sad for what seems like no reason, and our friends can seem to be enjoying something, and we aren’t. It can make us feel like we are somehow different, but how you feel is not a choice. Sadness is a typical reaction—one we all experience at different times and in different ways.  

Sometimes sadness can be more intense and last longer. You may notice your outlook changed and you feel more negative about the world, or yourself. It may even affect how much you sleep or eat, your motivation, or how much you enjoy things that you typically enjoy. 

When sadness affects your life in these ways, it may be a sign you are experiencing something more than a fleeting feeling. Confronting sadness that overwhelms you or prevents you from living your life in the way you want is challenging, but understanding it, and even growing to appreciate it, is part of healing.

What's causing it?

In many ways, our understanding of exactly what causes sadness and how we react to it is still evolving. Like many feelings, it has origins in our biology and our social interactions. 

It’s important to note that sadness (a feeling) is different from depression even if we use the words interchangeably sometimes. Depression is a mental health condition, and sadness is only one symptom of it. Often, sadness is temporary and can vary in intensity.

Sadness can be caused by many different situations, in different people. For example, you might feel sad because of a breakup, a bad grade, or an injury. How sad you feel can also be affected by stress or sleep.

Exploring how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it is an important step to care for yourself mentally and physically. When you’re dealing with sadness that won’t back down, the most effective first step to take is to allow yourself to feel sad because of that situation, and then you can identify potential causes to begin addressing what is making you sad.

Sadness can occur by itself, or can be complicated by other emotions or challenges. It's important to understand all the emotions you could be experiencing to help deal with sadness effectively.

Sadness can be a symptom of many other mental health conditions that can be debilitating if left untreated. 

How should I deal with it?

You’ve already taken an important step in dealing with your sadness by identifying that you’re feeling sad. Allow yourself time and space to feel. Pushing down and ignoring your emotions often causes more issues later, so cry if you need to cry.

Afterward, you can try to find ways to cope with it. What you do may depend on what you like, but there are many practical options to choose from. 

Things to try

These are numerous approaches you can try to feel better if you’re experiencing sadness. The goal is not to ignore being sad or judge yourself for being sad, but to take time to process your feelings.


Video Play Watch
Write down a few things you're grateful for
For:
Grief & loss ,
Sadness ,
Chronic health issues & disabilities
When you're struggling, it can understandably be challenging to find the silver linings in the world around you. Our brains don't help us by being designed to notice the negative and the danger. But taking the time to physically write down the things in your life you feel grateful for—even things as simple as the food you eat and bed you sleep in—can have tangible health benefits. You can do this at the end of the day, noting the good things about your day as well. When you're able to channel energy towards things you're grateful for, it can make the things you're struggling with not feel as overwhelming. It is not toxic positivity, and telling you to ignore the hard things, it is just helping you to notice the good in the sea of bad.

Lightbulb Activity
Watch something funny
For:
Anger ,
Grief & loss ,
Loneliness ,
Sadness ,
Relationship issues & breakups
Humor has a lot of power. Watching a comedic movie or even a standup comedy special may seem like a bandaid, but it has the potential to tap into the depths of your true self. (This goes back to the common phrase, "It's funny because it's true.") Finding ways to laugh at pieces of art (comedy is art!) has been something people have done for centuries to cope and reflect on the human experience. Comedy can help you feel a little better by highlighting what's important to you and the silver linings of life's ups and downs.

Headphones Listen
Create an upbeat playlist
For:
Sadness ,
Relationship issues & breakups ,
Chronic health issues & disabilities
Aside from just sounding good, research shows that listening to music actually increases blood flow to regions in your brain that generate and control emotions. And studies show that faster music (usually performed at a tempo between 140 and 150 beats per minute) tends to generate more positive emotions than slower music. Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” (at 156 BPM) is just one example of a song that might give you some positive emotions—it's the first of 10 in a research-backed playlist. But don't let us stop you from making your own playlist of songs that feel good to you.

Video Play Watch
Acknowledge and avoid negative self-talk
For:
Non-substance addiction ,
Substance use ,
Anger ,
Guilt ,
Worry
Stress or worry might lead you to interpret situations negatively, be overly self-critical, or doubt you ability to deal with stressors. To reframe negative thoughts, avoid thinking of them as facts and consider other possibilities. Doing this over time can help reduce the negative emotional response to stress. The world is hard enough, you don't need to be hard on yourself, too.

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Recognize when to get help
For:
Substance use ,
Trauma ,
Non-substance addiction ,
Family conflict ,
Money issues ,
Guilt
If you feel things getting worse instead of better, notice you've lost interest in people and things you used to enjoy, or have trouble doing everyday things like eating, getting dressed, and getting out of the house, you may be experiencing a more serious mental health issue and it’s important to seek out help from a therapist or psychiatrist who can help you find relief. It can be hard to recognize changes in symptoms, so consider tracking them in a journal or mood-tracking app. If you or a loved one is having thoughts of self-harm, talk to someone you trust or call or text 988 to get free and confidential support from the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Learn about more crisis resources

What can I do now?

Feelings of sadness can feel daunting, and it may seem like they stick around for too long. Instead of wishing them away, sometimes the best thing to do is to let yourself feel sad, and then try to understand the "why" later. 

That being said, if your sadness lasts more than a few days, you can’t seem to shake it, and it’s getting in the way of your life, consider checking out these resources.

  • Helpline | Text line | Online Live Chat
    NAMI HelpLine | National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
    During this difficult time, the NAMI HelpLine is here for you. HelpLine volunteers are working to answer questions, offer support and provide practical next steps. The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m., ET. Call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), text "HelpLine" to 62640 or email us at helpline@nami.org.
    Grief & loss, Trauma, Suicide, Depression, Crisis support, Online livechat, Text line, Hotline
  • Helpline | Text line
    998 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
    The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the United States. Available in English and Spanish.
    Grief & loss, Trauma, Online livechat, Text line, Hotline, Crisis support, For a loved one, Depression, Suicide
  • Helpline | Text line
    Disaster Distress Helpline (DDH)
    The Disaster Distress Helpline (DDH) is the first national hotline dedicated to providing year-round disaster crisis counseling. This toll-free, multilingual, crisis support service is available 24/7 to all residents in the U.S. and its territories who are experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters. DDH callers can connect with counselors in over 100 languages via 3rd-party interpretation services.
    Anger, Grief & loss, Trauma, Text line, Hotline, For survivors of trauma, assault or violence, Crisis support, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Anxiety, Depression, For survivors of natural or human-caused disasters