A person may experience “feeling blue” if they have emotions of sadness or feel down. Although it is possible to feel blue for no apparent cause, it usually happens for a reason.

People with the blues might feel unhappy or tearful, lack energy or motivation, or isolate themselves.

Although feeling blue may drain individuals of their usual optimism, enthusiasm, and happiness, it is temporary and does not typically interfere with their daily activities.

This article discusses what it means to feel blue and the signs to look out for. It also examines the differences between feeling blue and depression, how to overcome the blues, and when to get help.

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Roland Kraemer/Stocksy United

Feeling blue is an idiom that describes the experience of sadness or melancholy. It is a poetic and succinct way to communicate feeling:

  • sad
  • somber
  • glum
  • depressed
  • unhappy
  • dispirited
  • sorrowful

Occasional sadness is typical. How a person feels is a response to their daily experiences, so if they face difficult circumstances, their mood will reflect that.

People can usually identify the cause of their sadness when feeling blue. If they cannot determine the trigger, it can be helpful to think about any recent life changes or difficulties contributing to their low mood.

The main symptoms of feeling blue include sadness, a lack of motivation, and wanting to spend time alone. These symptoms are generally mild and pass relatively quickly.

People may have the blues for many reasons, such as the following:

  • a breakup
  • a disagreement with a friend
  • betrayal
  • the loss of a loved one or pet
  • dissatisfaction with their life
  • missing out on an opportunity

Once a person identifies the cause of their sadness, they can take steps to work through it and improve their mood.

Some people with the blues may describe themselves as feeling depressed. However, it is important to note that feeling blue and depression are not the same — there are several differences.

The blues usually has a cause

Feeling blue generally happens for a reason, such as missing out on a job opportunity. However, depression can seemingly occur for no reason at all.

Depression is a mental health condition that may result from genetic, biological, and environmental factors. Major life changes or experiencing traumatic or stressful events may increase a person’s risk of developing depression, but many other factors play a role in the condition.

People with depression may have low mood even when their life appears to be going well.

Feeling blue is temporary

When someone feels blue, their sadness tends to improve with time as they heal from disappointment or emotional distress. Doing activities they enjoy may help boost their mood.

In contrast, someone may have depression if sadness persists for most of the day, almost every day, for 2 weeks or more. Their mood may remain low even when doing something they used to enjoy, and they may notice little interest in anything.

Depression has several other symptoms

Individuals feeling blue predominantly feel sadness and melancholy. They can usually go about their day and get things done when their mood lifts. Depression, on the other hand, is different from regular mood fluctuations and may significantly impact a person’s ability to manage daily responsibilities.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people with depression may experience a host of accompanying symptoms, such as:

Not everyone with depression has all these symptoms, but some people may have many.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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Learn more about depression.

People can overcome feeling blue in many ways. The following tips may help individuals cope with their feelings and improve their mood:

Find ways to laugh

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states that laughter has several physiological effects, benefits various health conditions, and strengthens relationships.

For example, the VA says that laughter increases heart and respiratory rates and oxygen consumption over a short period. It also reduces the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Both effects can induce a state of relaxation.

Laughter also boosts beta-endorphin levels, which are the body’s feel-good chemicals. Furthermore, the VA notes that humor relieves tension, reassures individuals, and brings them together.

Whether someone watches a funny video, listens to a comedic podcast, or reads a humorous novel, bringing more laughter into their life may help cast away blue feelings.

Spend time in nature

Spending time outside in nature, sitting or walking, can positively impact mood. Research from 2020 examining nature therapy found that spending 10–50 minutes in natural spaces improves mood, focus, blood pressure, and heart rate.

Exposure to sunlight also triggers serotonin production, a neurotransmitter that lifts mood.

Other 2021 research found that nature-based activities improve mood, generate positive emotions, and decrease anxiety. Exercise and gardening were among the activities linked with mental health benefits, and performing these activities in groups led to greater mental health gains.

Get active

Regular physical activity releases feel-good endorphins and other natural brain chemicals that enhance well-being. It also helps distract the mind from worrying, reducing the negative cycle of thoughts that feed low mood and anxiety.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just one session of moderate-to-vigorous exercise can help reduce anxiety, and even short bouts are beneficial.

For substantial health benefits, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americansrecommends that adults do at least 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week and muscle-strengthening activities 2 or more days a week.

Talk it out

Bottling up feelings does not help a person feel better. Sharing their feelings with trusted friends, family members, or a therapist can help them work through their emotions and ease distress. Listening to another person’s perspective can also help someone find ways to feel better and move forward.

If individuals have difficulties communicating their feelings with others, they may find it helpful to express themselves in other ways, such as journaling or creating art that reflects their mood.

Everyone feels sad sometimes, but these feelings usually fade over time. If a person experiences prolonged sadness for 2 weeks or more and feels they have lost interest in anything they previously enjoyed, they should contact a doctor for advice.

When sadness lingers with other accompanying symptoms, such as irritability and sleep and appetite changes, a person may have depression. This is particularly true when people cannot pinpoint the cause of their feelings.

Healthcare professionals can help support people with depression and effectively manage their symptoms.

People feel blue when a situation or circumstance makes them sad, gloomy, and in low spirits. Missing out on a job opportunity, having a disagreement with a friend, or being frustrated with life can all lead to feeling blue.

Everyone feels blue sometimes. Humans respond to life changes and adjustments and cannot always remain happy. It is only natural to feel unhappy when having a tough time.

There are several ways to cope with and overcome feeling blue. Some activities that may help include watching, listening to, or reading something humorous; spending time in nature; or getting physically active.

A person should seek the advice of a healthcare professional if they experience persistent sadness that lasts for more than 2 weeks, particularly if they feel nothing in particular has triggered their sadness.

Although people can usually identify the reason for their blue feelings, unhappiness and dissatisfaction without a cause may signal they have depression and require treatment.