Sadness is a temporary state that often has a clear cause, like a big disappointment, the loss of someone close to you, or bad news from someone you love.
This type of sadness can fluctuate throughout the day. In certain moments, the emotional burden might feel particularly heavy. You might cry often, feel numb or drained, and struggle to concentrate.
At other times — when you get lost in something you enjoy or when a loved one distracts you — your sorrow may seem light enough that you can barely feel its weight. While it might linger in some form for days or weeks, it generally begins to ease naturally.
Persistent sadness is something else entirely. It can wrap around you like a heavy blanket, muffling the sensations and joy of everyday life. This sadness can leave you feeling low, empty, and defeated. You don’t know what caused your unhappiness, so you have no idea how to start feeling better.
Feeling sad isn’t at all unusual. After all, sorrow is a normal human response to disappointment and loss. Sadness that doesn’t have a clear reason behind it and doesn’t seem to improve, however, may suggest something else is going on.
While not everyone with depression will feel sad, unexplainable sadness you can’t seem to shake is one of the primary signs of depression.
If your sadness does relate to depression, you’ll likely feel sad nearly all of the time — almost every day, for most of each day, for a period of 2 weeks or longer. Sadness, in other words, seems to become a constant companion.
With depression, you’ll experience other symptoms, too. If several of the signs below accompany your sad or tearful mood, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with depression:
- feelings of anxiety or emptiness
- a sense of pessimism and hopelessness about the future
- increased irritability
- feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- little interest in the things you usually enjoy
- fatigue, lack of energy
- unexplained physical tension, pain, or digestive issues
- changes in sleep patterns
- slowed movements or speech
- restlessness or agitation
- trouble with concentration, memory, and decision making
- appetite changes
Chronic sadness, especially when related to depression, might also prompt regular thoughts of death or suicide. Even if you don’t have a plan to act on these thoughts, it’s always best to talk to someone you trust and get support right away (more on how to do this later).
You might begin to notice your feelings of sadness, along with any other symptoms you experience, follow a specific pattern. Depression can take different forms, and various underlying factors can have an impact on the way your symptoms show up.
A few things to look for:
Rapid shifts in mood
You might notice you suddenly feel intensely happy, even euphoric. This abrupt change in mood might also involve:
- impulsive behavior
- restlessness and irritability
- a renewed sense of energy that leaves you fixating on certain projects or activities
- an increase in confidence and self-esteem
- less of a need for sleep
This episode might last a week, or longer.
This combination of symptoms can make it harder to understand what you’re experiencing, which could add to your distress.
Maybe your sadness seems to arrive or intensify around the same time of year the days begin to shorten. Once the longer, sunnier days of spring and summer arrive, you feel better, year after year.
It’s pretty common to feel a little low in autumn and winter. The nights get long and cold, and there are plenty of days when you may not even see the sun.
If this seasonal sadness persists and becomes serious enough to affect daily life, you could have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs along with seasonal changes.
Along with other common depression symptoms, you might also notice:
- angry, pessimistic, or frustrated thoughts about the weather
- withdrawal or increased avoidance of social settings
- an increased desire to eat and sleep
Sadness before your menstrual cycle, during pregnancy, or after childbirth
Reproductive hormones can also play a part in depression symptoms, so tracking what time of the month symptoms show up can offer some important clues.
- Symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder generally show up a week or so before your period starts. Along with depression symptoms, you might experience anxiety or nervousness, paranoia, or panic. Some people also have a sense of general overwhelm, or feel as if they’re losing control.
- Perinatal depression involves episodes of depression that might begin during pregnancy or anytime in the first year after childbirth. It can involve worries about your ability to care for your child and intrusive thoughts about harming yourself or your child. You might also struggle to bond with your child.
- Depression symptoms can also develop along with perimenopause, or the transitional period before menopause. You might feel very tearful, lose interest in your usual activities, and find it difficult to manage ordinary stressors.
Mild sadness and emptiness that never seems to go away
Symptoms of depression often become serious enough to get in the way of everyday functioning, but that isn’t always the case.
With most forms of depression, periods of sadness might last a few weeks or longer, depending on the type of depression you have, and then lift temporarily. You might not feel sad or notice any other symptoms for some time.
With persistent depressive disorder (PDD), on the other hand, mood symptoms won’t show up in clear episodes. Instead, they often last for years. With PDD, you may no longer recall a time when you didn’t feel somewhat sad or depressed. You might:
- have trouble finding pleasure and joy in anything at all
- fall into patterns of pessimistic or hopeless thinking
- have low self-esteem
- have low energy for most activities
Unlike symptoms of major depression, symptoms of PDD may not prevent you from living your daily life. Still, as you work, go to school, and take care of your regular responsibilities. you’ll likely notice an ever-present sad or low mood.
When sadness tints every aspect of your day-to-day an unrelenting gray, you might have trouble finding relief. Feeling down can also make it more difficult to brainstorm potentially helpful changes, which is why professional support can make a big difference (more on this in a moment).
In the meantime, these strategies may offer a bit of relief.
Talk to loved ones
Many of the symptoms associated with sadness or depression can prompt you to pull back from others rather than seek emotional support.
When feeling irritable, you might get frustrated with loved ones easily. You might experience guilt over negative feelings toward others, your need to cancel plans, or your disinterest in your usual activities. It’s also fairly common to find yourself doubting whether loved ones actually care about you and want to spend time with you.
Isolating yourself will generally only worsen sadness, though, so sharing your feelings with someone you trust can help a lot. Even opening up to just one close friend or family member can help you feel less alone.
Talking won’t necessarily make your symptoms go away, but it can help the burden seem lighter. You’ll also have someone you can turn to if you need additional support.
Add a little humor
People commonly use humor as a method of coping with depression and other mental health conditions.
Even when you don’t feel much like laughing or cracking jokes, funny books, YouTube videos, or your favorite comedy program can often take the edge off your sadness and help raise your spirits.
Not a fan of comedy? Taking a beloved book off the shelf or curling up with a nostalgic movie can sometimes offer similar benefits.
Listen to music
Music offers a number of mental health benefits, including temporary relief from sadness and other symptoms of depression. It can help energize you, so you could also see some improvements in any fatigue you’re experiencing.
Just try to avoid music that matches your mood. Wallowing can seem like a good way to get those feelings out, but mournful tunes might end up
Do something you enjoy
Your favorite hobbies may seem less enjoyable when you feel sad or down, but giving them a try anyway can sometimes offer mood-boosting benefits.
If you’re struggling to muster up any energy, try low-key activities instead of ones that you feel exhausted just thinking about.
A few possibilities:
- reading a book
- working on a craft project
- taking a warm bath with relaxing music and candles or essential oils
- calling a friend
- cuddling your pet
Spend some time in the sun
“Have you tried going outside?” can sound like something a well-meaning loved one with no real knowledge of mood disorders might say. Yet while sunlight won’t completely cure feelings of sadness or depression, regular sun exposure can make a difference for both physical and mental well-being.
Experts believe sunlight prompts your brain to
Exercise can also offer some mood-boosting benefits, so if you feel up to it, combine your sun exposure with a walk around your neighborhood or in your favorite park.
Can’t get outside easily? Little sun to speak of? Light therapy with a SAD lamp can help you get some artificial sun that still offers very real benefits.
Coping strategies won’t always help relieve sadness. If nothing seems to help you find relief, it may be time to talk to a therapist or other healthcare professional.
Professional support is always recommended when symptoms:
- go away and come back regularly or continue to get worse
- begin to affect daily life and relationships
- keep you from taking care of responsibilities
- show up in physical ways — appetite or sleep changes, unexplained aches and pains
If you need help now
It’s important to get help right away if you have thoughts of death, dying, or suicide. Therapy offers a safe space to address and manage these thoughts over the long term, but in-the-moment support may be more helpful if you’re experiencing distressing thoughts during a mental health crisis.
You can find a therapist in your area with a quick Google search, using a therapist directory, or by asking a primary care provider for a referral.
When talking with a healthcare professional, be sure to tell them about any patterns you’ve noticed with your symptoms, including seasonal mood changes or cycles between extreme sadness and extreme elation.
Also, consider keeping track of changing moods and emotions in a journal. This helps express and sort through feelings at the moment, but it also creates a log of symptoms you can share with your care team.
Feeling sad all the time for no specific reason doesn’t always mean you have depression, but it does suggest you could be experiencing something more complex than sadness alone.
When sadness lingers and becomes more of a fixed state of being, talking to a therapist can have a lot of benefits. In the meantime, be gentle with yourself and try to remember that this feeling won’t last forever.
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.