Feeling a bit blue lately?

You might call it gloominess or being down in the dumps. While you could briefly feel a little down for no clear reason, you can often trace the sadness that comes with a blue mood to specific circumstances.

If you have the so-called blues, you might feel sad or tearful, want to spend time by yourself, and lack your usual energy or motivation. These feelings usually tend to be pretty mild, though, and they generally pass before too long.

Temporary blues might sap some of your usual cheer, but they generally won’t keep you from your typical daily routine.

Totally, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s common to view unhappiness and sadness as negative things. But all emotions have significance, even the unwanted ones.

Low moods may not feel very good, it’s true. Occasional sadness is very much a normal part of life, though. Your feelings and emotions change in response to your day-to-day experience, so when you’re having a tough time, you’ll probably notice your mood reflects the challenges you’re facing.

Feeling blue can alert you to the fact that something isn’t quite right in your life, which can help you take steps to identify the cause of the low mood and make some changes that could help you feel better.

In short, it’s not at all unusual to feel a little down from time to time, particularly when facing a loss or difficult situation.

If you can’t immediately identify the cause, it might help to take a closer look at any recent changes or problems in your life — even periods of boredom or stagnation, such as feeling stuck in a rut — can contribute to blue moods.

While it’s important to recognize sadness as a natural emotional state, it’s also essential to realize when a low mood might stem from something else, like depression.

You may brush off symptoms of depression as sadness or a temporary funk, but not addressing serious mood changes won’t do you any favors in the long run.

Keeping the following in mind can help you tell the difference between ordinary sadness and depression.

Sadness usually has a cause

Despite their name, the blues typically don’t just appear out of the blue.

They’re often the result of something more specific, like:

  • a missed opportunity
  • the loss of a friend, pet, or loved one
  • a breakup
  • frustration with your life
  • betrayal

Even if it takes some time to realize exactly why you feel sad, you’ll usually be able to identify the trigger. Once you figure out what caused your sadness, you can usually take action to start working through it.

When it comes to depression, however, you often can’t trace it back to a specific cause. You might feel sad, frustrated, or hopeless yet have no idea why.

Your life might even seem like it’s going pretty darn well, which can lead to confusion over why you feel so miserable.

Depression generally lingers

Sadness passes in time as you begin to heal from your loss, disappointment, or other emotional distress. Depression, on the other hand, often doesn’t quit.

You might have brighter moments where your mood temporarily improves, but you’ll probably feel down more often than not.

Sadness often lifts when you do something enjoyable

When you feel sad, you can often lighten your mood by:

  • watching something funny
  • spending time with loved ones
  • doing a favorite hobby

But with depression, you might try all the above activities — and more —and still not see any improvement. Depression can also make it tough to find the energy to do anything at all.

You may also notice less interest in the things you used to enjoy.

Depression can lead to suicidal thoughts

Not everyone who experiences depression will have suicidal thoughts, but they aren’t uncommon in folks with depression.

If you feel blank or numb, you might also have thoughts of hurting yourself in order to feel something, even if you don’t actually have any desire to die.

With sadness, you might feel a little bleak for a few days, but most people don’t experience thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

If you have thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can text or call a crisis helpline for immediate support.

Sadness generally doesn’t disrupt daily life

When feeling blue, you might experience some temporary haziness, especially when you think of whatever triggered your sadness.

You might not have much of an appetite, and your feelings could affect sleep, too — maybe sadness keeps you awake one night or makes you want to take refuge in bed instead of facing the world.

The cloud usually lifts, though, especially when you remind yourself you need to focus on responsibilities like work or childcare. You might continue feeling blue for several days, perhaps longer, but you can usually work around this mood to get things done.

Depression, however, often seems like a thick fog that weighs you down and mutes everything happening around you. You might feel disconnected from life and have trouble focusing on tasks and goals or remembering important information.

Many people with depression feel slow or sluggish and have trouble with sleep and concentration. Eventually, these effects can stack up and have a significant impact on your ability to manage daily responsibilities.

If you’re feeling a bit blue, these tips can help you cope in a healthy, productive way.

If you suspect you might be dealing with depression, these tips might not be very effective. Luckily, you have other options, which we’ll touch on in the next section.

Talk it out

Simply sharing your sadness with someone you trust can often help ease distress. Friends and loved ones, especially those also affected by the same circumstances, can validate your pain and share their own.

Even when your support system hasn’t experienced what you’re going through, they can still help distract you from your sadness by offering company and other diversions.

Laughter, in particular, can be a great way to kick a blue mood, so consider watching a comedy movie or TV show with friends or playing a silly game.

Get moving

If you’re feeling down, getting some exercise might be pretty low on your list of things you want to do, but if you can muster the motivation, it’s usually worth it.

Exercise triggers endorphin release, for one. Endorphins act as a natural form of pain relief, which can help you feel better mentally and physically.

Physical activity can also help relieve stress, so if recent worries are making your mood worse, you might see some improvement after a quick bike ride, run, or swim.

If nothing else, it’ll likely help you get some quality sleep, which doesn’t always come easy when you’re feeling down.

Go outside

Spending time in nature can also help lift a low mood and relieve stress and sadness.

You can thank the sun, in part, since sunlight can trigger the production of serotonin, another neurotransmitter that can improve your mood.

But spending time around trees, flowers, running water, and other elements of nature can also boost well-being and relieve feelings of sadness or distress.

Try some creative expression

Talking about sad feelings can help, but if you struggle to find the right words, expressing your emotions in other ways can also have benefits.

Try:

  • journaling
  • writing poetry
  • creating art that reflects your mood
  • using music to share your feelings, whether you create your own or listen to songs that really capture what you’re feeling

Change your routine

Making a few changes may not completely overhaul your mood, but switching up your routine can help improve your outlook, which can ease feelings of sadness and gloom.

Even small things, like changing your hair, putting together a new outfit, going on a date, or taking a chance on a new restaurant can help you feel better.

If you’re up for it, try saying yes to something impulsive, like touring a haunted house with a friend.

You might also consider adding some volunteer work or community service to your week. Performing random acts of kindness for others can help improve your mood and have other wellness benefits.

If you’re dealing with depression, the coping tips above may not make much difference.

That’s understandable. Depression is a mental health condition, not a temporary mood state, and it can have a serious impact on your life.

Many people with depression need support from a mental health professional to manage symptoms and see relief — it’s absolutely OK to need extra support.

It’s wise to reach out for help if you feel sad, low, dejected, or blue in any other way for longer than a week or two, especially if you can’t pinpoint any specific cause of your feelings.

Other key signs of depression include:

  • irritability and other mood changes
  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • getting little or no pleasure from things you’d usually enjoy, like hobbies or time with loved ones
  • changes in sleep or appetite

A therapist can offer support for depression symptoms and guidance on helpful coping tips.

Not sure where to start? Our guide to affordable therapy can help.

If you need help now

If you’re considering suicide or have thoughts of harming yourself, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

The 24/7 hotline will connect you with mental health resources in your area. Trained specialists can also help you find your state’s resources for treatment if you don’t have health insurance.

Healthline

You can find additional resources, including hotlines, online forums, and other methods of support, here.

It’s common to feel a little blue on occasion. Try not to worry if you’ve been a little sad or lethargic lately — these emotions happen naturally, and you can often manage them on your own.

Depression, however, can cause a darker, more persistent negative mood. If your sadness lingers and you can’t seem to shake the blues, consider reaching out to a therapist or talking to your healthcare provider.


Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.