Sadness & low mood

Feeling sad, hopeless or down are normal emotions. Just like happy, excited, and relaxed. But more often than not, we struggle with feelings of sadness as they can feel unpleasant for us.

Feeling sad, hopeless or down are normal emotions. Just like happy, excited, and relaxed. But more often than not, we struggle with feelings of sadness as they can feel unpleasant for us.

Feeling sad is a core human emotion, however, sadness can be difficult to sit with and often make us think negatively about ourselves, others and the world around us. It can also make us behave in ways that keep the sadness going. Learning to understand what is a mood state and what is more severe, is an important part of maintaining your wellbeing at university.


Sadness is a basic human emotion that we feel in response to a trigger. For example, you may not be invited to a friend’s social event, someone may make a rude comment, or you may get a poor mark on an assignment you worked hard on. These events will likely bring up feelings of sadness, disappointment and hurt. People often describe sadness in the body as a ‘heaviness in the chest’ or a ‘lump in the throat’. This is the body’s way of feeling sadness which may linger for a few moments, a few hours, or a few days.


Feelings of sadness and unhappiness may last for weeks, months or even longer. You might feel irritable, sad or stressed most of the time. Depression is different to sadness in that it can be described as wearing ‘black coloured glasses’, where it is difficult to see the positive in anything at all.

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling low, flat, down or numb most of the time
  • Feeling sad or tearful
  • Less care in appearance and tidiness
  • Changes in sleep pattern (staying up late, insomnia, sleeping later and staying in bed)
  • Changes in diet (eating more, eating less)
  • Loss of interest in usual activities (hobbies, interests)
  • Loss of motivation
  • Lack of concentration
  • Withdrawal from friends & family
  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, worthlessness

Common thoughts include:

  • ‘Things are never going to get better’
  • ‘No one can help me’
  • ‘What’s the point anyway’
  • ‘I don’t deserve to feel happy’

How to manage feelings of sadness and depressive symptoms

Self-compassion involves being aware of our own pain and suffering, and understanding that while feeling this pain is hard, it is a normal human experience. Directing feelings of kindness and care towards ourselves and focusing on what is important to us in this moment are also crucial components of self-compassion.

  1. Compassionate gesture – you might notice a heaviness in the pit of your stomach when you are feeling sad. Try placing a hand over that area to offer yourself some comfort or wrap your arms around yourself and hold yourself lightly. Have a go at doing this with someone guiding you through A Compassionate Hand self-compassion exercise
  2. Compassionate words – When we are feeling sad, we often have a ‘critical part’ of us that tells us that we shouldn’t feel that way. We also have a ‘compassionate part’ of us that is kind and understanding of what we are going through. When we are feeling sad, this part might say ‘This is really hard right now’, ‘It is OK to feel sad’, ‘This will pass’, ‘You will be okay’.
  3. Compassionate actions – Self-soothing activities such as treating yourself to a nice meal, having a long shower, enjoying your favourite drink, going to a beautiful place – are all compassionate actions that are often the opposite of what our sadness tells us to do. Sadness tells us to withdraw, stay in bed and not eat. However if we can respond to our sadness with compassionate actions, we give the sadness room to move on its own, rather than feeding it.

When we are feeling sad, doing anything at all can feel like an effort. In the same way that things can spiral negatively, they can spiral in a positive way too. By giving ourselves a balance of pleasurable activities (things that lift our mood) and mastery activities (things that give us a sense of achievement), we build momentum and shift our mood. So if a mastery activity might be to have a shower, then we want to balance this out with a pleasurable activity such as watching an episode of your favourite show.

Try using this Fun & Achievement Tracker from CCI and check out this list of pleasurable activities if you get stuck for ideas.

The way we think can have a serious impact on how we feel in the moment and what we choose to do. A common myth is that thoughts = fact. If we have the thought ‘I’m going to fail’, it can often feel as though this is true, but the truth is that we don’t yet know if we will fail or not. But there are lots of literature to say that if we behave as though we are a failure, then we will eventually fail. If we can step back and learn to observe our thoughts for what they are, without getting caught up in them and without letting it influence how we behave, this gives us much more space for our emotions to come and go in their own time.

If you want to have a go at practising this experience, try listening to Leaves On A Stream by CompassionFocusedTherapy

Get support

Internal resources

  • Health and Wellbeing Centre: Call or drop-in to the Health & Wellbeing Centre located at Peribolos East Ground Floor (PE101), Bundoora Campus, which operates Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm. The Health & Wellbeing Mentors are available to offer drop-in sessions, provide information on accessing supports within the university including mental health, counselling, accessibility support and learning plans.
  • Emergency: In an emergency ring 000 and then security 9479 2222
  • Use our La Trobe University Crisis Line for Out-of-Hours Mental Health and Wellbeing Support. Phone 1300 146 307 or text 0488 884 100. This service operates 5pm-9am on weekdays and 24 hours during weekends and public holidays.

External resources

Online Supports

  • Lifeline – For anyone experiencing a personal crisis, 24 hours a day 13 11 14.
  • Beyond Blue – 24/7 phone support, chat online service and resources for those needing support.
  • Headspace – free online and phone support and counselling to young people aged 12-25 years old and their families and friends.
  • Switchboard - for LGBTIQA+ specific support and referral

Self-Help programs

  • Mental Health Online - free self-guided programs; small fee for therapist-assisted programs
  • moodgym – Free self-help program, interactive skills training for depression and anxiety
  • myCompass – Free online self-help program, learn strategies for dealing with unhelpful thoughts, feelings and behaviours
  • Back from the Bluez – Free self-help workbook and worksheets by the Centre for Clinical Interventions
  • Self-Compassion - Free self-help workbook and worksheets by the Centre for Clinical Interventions


Apps & Exercises