Depression and low mood

What does depression feel like: emotional & cognitive experiences

Here young people talk about their emotional and cognitive experiences of depression; they describe what being depressed or low felt like for them or certain ways of thinking they associated with depression.

Some people may find the experiences discussed here upsetting or unsettling.

Emotions and feelings
Many people described feeling “bottomless sadness”, being “upset” and “never happy” and crying a lot. They felt tearful and constantly low. The difference to “normal sadness” seemed to be the enormity of those feelings and that they were constantly present. One person described feeling that “sadness overtakes” her life and “nothing can fix it”. Hopelessness, and a sense that there was no way out of the sorrow, was very common. People also described feeling negative and low about themselves and one woman described having “real hatred for myself”.
On the contrary, some felt no emotion at all. One person said he was “unable to enjoy” a seemingly happy and good life. They described feeling “numb”, “total nothingness” and a complete loss of interest and motivation in life. One man said “he’d gone off the boil”. One woman described herself;
 
“I’ve got no emotions on anything. I don’t feel happy I don’t feel sad, I’ve just got the same face on all the time.”

Feeling angry or “short tempered” was also a common feeling many people had. They said they got easily “wound up” and sometimes had bursts of anger or rage for no apparent reason. A couple had been to anger management sessions to try and learn ways to manage those feelings. Few had got into fights or into trouble with police for being physically aggressive. For others, anger was more subtle and directed inwards;

“I get angry every time I think about being sad. It’s kind of a mix between low mood and angry about myself for being low.”
 
One woman felt that anger is too often passed off as a personality trait, rather than understood as a manifestation of low mood or depression.
Some people's moods fluctuated up and down, even daily, and some called this “mood swings”. There seemed to be no obvious trigger for the sudden switch in moods which made people feel their moods were “unpredictable”, even for them. Life was “up and down” for no obvious reason. For a few people who’d been diagnosed with a bipolar mood disorder the highs and lows of moods were even more distinct. One person described his life with fluctuating moods as “a rollercoaster”, another one as “a pendulum syndrome”'
 
“I call it the pendulum syndrome because you can be OK one day, but the pendulum does gradually swing back and you do get times where your mood does dip again.”
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For a couple of people depressive feelings and experiences were particularly bad during the winter months. They connected this to lack of natural light and short days but also to particular cultural events occurring during winter, such as Christmas, which could make these feelings worse.

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Cognitive experiences - thoughts and mind
Another way in which people experienced depression was as particular ways of thinking, of thinking too much. Most described “overanalysing and worrying” about everything and felt they were stuck in cycles of “negative thinking”. Quite a few described how they had always been “worriers”; going over and over a range of worst case scenarios and worrying about everything. Several people said they couldn’t switch off their overactive minds and found this extremely draining. Here is what some of them said;
 
“I was thinking myself to a mess”
 
“I never ever stop thinking about things. I think about it all day, I think about it all night. I think mostly at night, but I think about my stuff in the day. Even when people are trying to talk to me, I’ll still sit there and think about what’s on my mind.”
 
“It’s just like a bottle really, just building up and building up and you just can’t let the cap off.”
Negative thinking patterns became self-fulfilling for many and prevented them from being spontaneous. Quite a few said they’d found help for this from CBT, cognitive behavioural therapy, see ‘Talking treatments’.
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People also described how their mind would distort even the most positive events and turn them into negative experiences. For example if they’d succeeded in an exam, they’d convince themselves that it was “a fluke” or a mistake, and in reality, they actually were “worthless” and didn’t deserve good marks.

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Other cognitive experiences people described included difficulty concentrating or focusing, overemphasising the smallest of negative feelings or living in “a cloud” of their own. A couple also had memory problems. One man explained:
 
"The case with anxiety and depression is it really is the power of your own inquisitive mind that sends you over the edge, and it’s just you’re battling against yourself at the end of the day, so, however much you think about it, it kicks you when you're down.”

Many people also experienced 'Anxiety, panic attacks, obsessions and hallucinations’.

For helplines and other resources please see our ‘Resources’ section.

Last reviewed December 2013.

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