Depression and Sadness: What’s the Difference?

Charlotte Howard, a therapist at Deep Eddy Psychotherapy in Austin, TX, talks about properly grieving and letting sadness move through you versus the hopeless draining of energy brought on by depression.


It’s Important to Feel Your Sadness

Sadness is a really rich human experience and it’s really necessary to feel your sadness and to let your body move through it; crying or just making space to feel it.

Without sadness, it would be kind of boring. We really need the complexity of what our heart has to offer in reaction to the world.

Depression Is a System Shutdown

Depression is actually a system shutdown. Depression is devoid of our internal information and experience because the whole system is turned off. It’s more like a hopeless draining of energy.

Sadness, on the other hand, is an important informative and beautiful experience. With sadness, you can just grieve and let it move through you and then it resolves.

What causes depression specifically? Why would I be depressed versus sad? What would make me go to that place?

Often, depression is anger that shut down and turned inward on the self. You decide that you can’t make the space for whatever you’re angry about or you are going to direct the anger at yourself.  Anger in its natural form is energizing–it has a lot of life force in it—but if we shut it down, it’s really telling the system, “This is not okay.”

The problem is we can’t selectively shut down. We can’t just shut down anger or shut down one thing that we don’t want to experience–we lose access to all the great feelings as well. So, it’s like the master control panel shuts down and that’s when depression happens.

Look for the Last Moment You Did Not Feel Depressed

If you think your depression is anger-related, it is really helpful to go back and try to look for the last moment that you didn’t feel depressed. Especially if it’s just a depressed mood–when you’re going about your day just feeling like, ‘Ugh!’ If you can go back and say, “When did I not feel like this?” You might think back and remember, “Coming down the stairs this morning I felt pretty good, then I walked into the kitchen and felt good, and started eating breakfast—no, that felt bad. Okay, and I remember that I had looked for the Cheerios and we didn’t have any.”

Sometimes it can be so subtle and we’re so mad. Then, we project all of our anger from our life onto the world because it didn’t have what we needed right then. Somehow, your body just decides to shut down: system shut down. But you can go back and revisit it, maybe saying, “Ugh! We didn’t have any Cheerios!” Just feel it, really make space in your body. Let the sensations travel all the way through your arms and fingertips to feel whatever needed to happen there, “Oh man! That was disappointing!” It doesn’t matter how small the thing was, a lot of times our mood will bounce back once we re-own and experience our anger.

Starting Therapy in Austin, TX to Deal with Depression

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