Taking a Proactive Approach to Wellbeing in the Difficult Road of Depression vs Sadness.

Taking a Proactive Approach to Wellbeing in the Difficult Road of Depression vs Sadness.

The Howell Health and Happiness Series presentation “ Depression vs Sadness –  Learning to Know the Differences ” offered by Dr. Christina Zampitella provided an overview of pragmatic and realistic approaches to achieving wellness when dealing with sadness, and provided guidance on when to seek help if suspecting depression.
There is more to depression than sadness, and sadness can lead to depression if left untreated.  Although the road seems difficult, there is hope.  A wellness approach will depend on how we balance our health-body-spirit components effectively, and what steps to take to achieve such balance.
To understand the differences between depression vs sadness, Dr. Zampitella recommends researching the definition of depression.  If one has a change from our typical mood in our social, occupational, educational of other functional aspects in our lives for over two weeks nearly EVERY DAY, then we might need a professional evaluation to determine if we are suffering from depression.
With sadness, one tends to go from feeling fine one day, to being sad the next.  It is typically caused by a sense of loss and is not confined only to the death of a loved one:  being laid off, ending a relationship, losing one’s independence, having an illness and the corresponding loss of health are examples of events that can lead us to sadness.
The definition of sadness encompasses symptoms such as a profound sense of sorrow, feeling lonely and helpless, diminishing one’s self care routine, feeling anxious, being very irritable, having a sense of guilt, reducing one’s activities due to a sense of decreased energy –including socialization and being unable to concentrate.

Identifying the Symptoms and Understanding the Difference Between Depression vs Sadness

Depression Vs. Sadness Infographic

The key between depression vs sadness symptoms and the ones related to depression strides in being able to recall the event that led us to sadness, the ability to differentiate our feelings before and after a traumatic event, and the ‘temporality’ of our sense of sorrow.  We can continue to live being sad, but are lives are SIGNIFICANTLY altered when being depressed.

So how can one learn to identify the difference between depression vs sadness? Although there are overlapping symptoms, the key identifying factor will be the ability to recall one’s feelings before and after a loss.  With depression, there is no one single event or outcome; it tends to be a combination of many things.   Chances are that single event that led one to the current state of sadness can help take action towards feeling better.   And not taking action might end up with depression.

As to the process of coping and adapting to those events that significantly alter our lives, a human being typically shows 2 tendencies when dealing with difficult situations: intuitively, where the use of our feelings guide the way; and thoughtfully, where the strategy on approaching a situation is focused on learning how to make our lives better.
The balanced relationship between confronting the impact of a tragic event—emotionally, psychologically, physically, spiritually and interpersonally — while still manage to attend to our everyday life – working and paying our bills; and the ability to go back and forth between both is how a human being copes with loss and sadness in a healthy manner.

The BIG Takeaways to Fight Sadness and Achieve a Holistic Approach to Wellness.

The secret to wellness starts with a tool that establishes simple guidelines to get an insight on our state of mind.   Once the differences between sadness and depression are understood – and specifically making sure that depression is out of the picture, Dr. Zampitella recommends the GRAPES approach as a tool that stimulates that ‘mind-body-spirit’ wellness:
G- Being able to be GENTLE with our own person:  The first question we need to ask is how well we take care of ourselves: are we kind or judgmental with our own person? Do we have a relationship with ourselves with the same kindness as we do with others, or are we angry all the time? How do we achieve a body-mind-spirit balance if we are not taken care of?
R – Relaxation: The art of taking a pause in the day to be connected to the here and now; the ability to be mindful of that present moment.  When you connect with the present moment you free your mind yourself from sadness and depression.
 A – A sense of Accomplishment:  Setting goals and achieving them, even if they seem small; having a sense of meaning – and working towards it.
P – Pleasure:  Defining those actions that give us pleasure and making sure we engage with them
E – Exercise:  Moving our bodies and our minds.  And yes, getting out of bed counts as a push-up!
S- Socialize:  Establishing and dedicating a time to nurture our relationships.
Chart of GRAPES Graph CalendarThe purpose of this exercise is to identify different feelings and thoughts on how to deal with certain issues and take action on those areas that are difficult to manage.   There is SO much that happens in a short period of time that can be overwhelming, and the ability to pull back together with a new perspective on life will depend on the capacity we have to analyze and take concrete actions towards our wellness.  Having the discipline to keep a log of these activities is the first step.

Beating the Blues!

But what else is can one do to beat the Blues?   Dr. Zamlpitella recommends establishing a routine that includes:


Journaling:  Keeping a diary of the things that one is most grateful for sets our minds in the right direction and serves as a reference book to turn back to.

 Smiling:  Research shows that this simple action releases dopamine, the ‘feel good hormone’. When you smile, you automatically feel better.

Maintaining sleep hygiene:  Being able to sleep according to what our bodies need represents being energized, motivated and ready to take challenges.

Nutrition:  Easting the required and recommended servings of healthy food will provide nutritional benefits that will aid in our overall wellbeing.

Exercise:  Keeping oneself energized and motivated

 Friendships:Nurturing and taking care of our friends and family 

Learning:Having the ability to set goals.  Being able to determine a path to achieve our personal objectives can be as simple as having a bucket list.  Simply put, if you were to die today, would you be happy?

Nature based therapies:  Nature has intrinsic healing properties:  it is non – judgmental, and has a natural blue print in the cycles in our life.  Nature takes us back to basics.  Research shows that 10 minutes of sunshine a day is not only soothing, but recommended for our vitamin D intake.

Meditation: Being in the here and the now and fully acknowledging the present moment.  

Therapy or Counseling:  Depression & anxiety can be treated through integrative ways and different methods of therapy.

There is no doubt than when feeling sad any advice or recommendation just seems easier said than done.  Setting goals and achieving most certainly offer hope.  The signs one notices when improving are:


  • Having more energy
  • Increased gratitude
  • Better self-esteem
  • Sleeping and eating better
  • Actually having a sense of humor and laughing more
  • Discovering a healthy, new you
  • Organized and focused
  • Engaging with people and enjoying life


Personal health begins with being our own health advocates.  When dealing with a health crisis, time and time again we are told to be proactive:  research the best doctors, write down our questions, get informed, keep a journal, seek peer groups that are dealing with the same issues…  the conclusion is always: our health stars with us.

About Dr. Christina Zampitella

Dr. Zampitella is a licensed clinical psychologist at Integrative Psychological and Assessment Services in San Diego, CA. She holds a Fellow of Thanatology (expert in death, loss, and grief), is a professional speaker, and an adjunct professor at National University and Marian University. She holds a doctorate degree, with an integrative psychology emphasis, from the California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) at Alliant International University in San Diego. Her doctoral research focused on the use of nature based rituals in the management of grief.   
For more information visit Dr. Zampitella’s Page:  http://integrativepsychservices.com/1802459.html

About the Doris A. Howell Foundation:
The Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research is committed to keeping the women we love healthy, advancing women’s health through research and educating women to be catalysts for improving family health in the community.

The organization does so by funding scholarships to scientists researching issues affecting women’s health; providing a forum for medical experts, scientists, doctors, researchers, and authors to convey the timely information on topics relevant to women’s health and the health. of their families through its Lecture and Evening Series, and by funding research initiatives that will create women’s health awareness and advocacy in the community.

 For more information about the Doris A. Howell Foundation, please visit www.howellfoundation.org. 


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