What is Sadness?
Sadness is considered to be one of the basic human emotions and it is a natural response to situations involving psychological, emotional, and/or physical pain. Sad feelings often quickly diminish after individuals resolve or come to terms with upsetting experiences.
Sadness affects everyone at some point, and is discernible at both the behavioral and physiological levels. Behaviors such as crying, sobbing, and temporary social solation are characteristic of sadness. Feeling sad can also trigger specific observable reactions in the brain and peripheral nervous system.
Though sadness is often linked with unfavorable circumstances, it is not always perceived in a negative light. Many people enjoy watching sad movies or listening to sad music because crying can be emotionally soothing. And while sadness can lead to withdrawal from other people or a loss of interest in certain activities, it can also prompt pleasure-seeking behaviors. In fact, positive personality traits such as alertness, thoughtfulness, and resilience can be fostered through sad experiences.
Sadness Is Not Depression
Depression is not merely an acute form of sadness; there are significant differences between the two states. Primary among these is that depression is a diagnosable mental health condition while sadness is not.
Individuals who feel sad are often able to identify the cause of their sadness, however many people experiencing depression report difficulty pinpointing the reason they are depressed. While a sad person may maintain hope for the future and may consciously decide to change an unhappy mood, a person experiencing depression may see life as hopeless, and may not be able to cope or overcome symptoms of depression using conscious choice.
Most people will experience feelings of sadness at various points in their lives. Unlike depression, sadness typically does not interfere with a person’s overall social functioning. A period of sadness may last no more than a minute, however feelings of depression can go on for months or even years without relief. Depression affects approximately 350 million people worldwide–with women twice as likely to develop the condition as men.
Sadness and Mental Health
Sadness is a common emotion. In some cases, it can also be a symptom of certain mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, antisocial personality, anorexia, and bulimia. If left unaddressed, negative feelings may cause an affected person to withdraw into social isolation—a behavior pattern that is closely associated with several mental health issues. Even if an individual is able to recognize the long-term emotional and psychological dangers, intense sadness may demotivate him or her from seeking needed help.
Therapy for Sadness
Talk therapies are particularly effective in helping people overcome feelings of sadness, as troubling situations are thoroughly explored and the individual is given the opportunity to express his or her point of view. After opening up, many affected individuals release much emotional stress, clear their thinking, and are better able to resolve the conflict in question.
Other strategies for resolving sadness can include talking with a loved one, proper nutrition, physical exercise, breathing exercises, or listening to positive music. Many of the mental health conditions which are associated with sadness can also be effectively treated with psychotherapy. Finding a qualified local therapist can help a person gain a positive outlook and develop useful coping skills for sadness and other emotions.
- Ekman, P. (1999). Basic Emotions. Handbook of Cognition and Emotion, 45-57. Retrieved from https://www.paulekman.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Basic-Emotions.pdf
- Goldberg, J. (2012). Is it depression or just the blues? Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/depression/is-it-depression-or-the-blues
- Lauwerijssen, K. (2008). Sadness. Retrieved from http://arno.uvt.nl/show.cgi?fid=113006
- Schimelpfening, N. (2014). Beyond sadness: Is it clinical depression or sadness? Retrieved from http://depression.about.com/cs/amidepressed/a/sadness.htm
- World Health Organization. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs369/en/
Last Updated: 08-21-2015
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