Before I keep writing, I need to point out that sadness and depression are two very different things.

Sadness is normal, and we all experience it from time to time. It only lasts for a few hours or days, and it’s usually our reaction to a negative, unexpected event. When you are sad you are upset, and you feel low, however you can still be productive and do the things you enjoy.

On the other hand, when you are depressed you find it difficult to do anything, and you feel tired all the time. You are at your lowest. You constantly have negative thought patterns. While sadness goes away quickly, depression could last for months.

Have a look at this table to get a better idea:

Although these are two different mental states, the four tips I am going to give you will be useful regardless of what you are going through right now.

Perhaps you are simply upset, and need something to improve your mood; perhaps you are going through a tough time, and you feel like giving up on life; maybe you are at your lowest, and you need to change no matter what.

Whatever the case, keep reading to find out what you can do today to feel better, eliminate negative thought patterns, and be in control of your life.

Sometimes it takes a while to notice a change in your emotions (especially if you do suffer from depression), so it’s important you take action immediately. You are on this planet to experience joy and fulfilment: don’t give in to darkness.

If you notice signs of depression, or you are sure you have it, I encourage you to seek help immediately. Asking for help could be the best decision of your life. It could be therapy — which, if done right, is almost guaranteed to help you — or talking to those who support you. Don’t wait, or it may get worse.

That being said, let’s begin.

1. Have a dream that’s bigger than you

When you are sad or depressed, it’s easy to lose perspective and become obsessed with whatever causes your pain.

This can turn into a vicious cycle, to the point where you wake up thinking about your current situation, spend the whole day dwelling on it (thus increasing your negative emotions), then complain that you feel worse. It’s like you constantly make your depression worse just by dwelling on it.

The more you focus on a problem, the bigger it becomes, so whenever you feel low it’s crucial that you shift your attention and give your mind something else to focus on.

One of the easiest (and most exciting) ways to accomplish this is to have a goal that’s bigger than you, bigger than your feelings, bigger than anything else.

It could be a goal, a dream, a project you’ve been thinking about for a while. It could be learning a new skill, creating something, traveling somewhere you’ve never been before. And it needs to be more important than whatever you are going through right now. This way, your sadness or depression won’t be your main problem anymore.

Now, as I’ve explained earlier, when someone is depressed he or she usually feels tired all the time, has no energy, and any task could feel like the hardest thing in the world, so working on a new goal won’t be easy for him or her.

The good news is it doesn’t need to be the greatest thing ever. You don’t need to become the best at anything in particular. It just needs to be something that requires your time and attention.

For example, some people who used to suffer from depression say they were able to overcome it by helping others. They shifted their focus from their own problem to other people’s problems, so even when they felt really low, their mind had a goal, a direction, something to accomplish.

Stop focusing on the way you feel, and pretend it’s nothing important — at least for the sake of this exercise: any mental health issue is, of course, super important. But the goal here is to shift your focus.

When you are depressed, it’s easy to lose perspective

2. Tell yourself you are wrong

If you are depressed, then chances are you have a very negative outlook on the world and life in general.

You think human beings are horrible creatures. You think everyone around you is mean and doesn’t care about your feelings. You believe your current situation is the worst, and the future is bleak. When that happens, your ego gets in the way, and does anything it can to prove you are right.

For example, if you are convinced other people are mean, then you’ll only think of those who tried to use you, or put you down, or disrespect you in any way — and you’ll forget about the individuals who love and support you.

If you believe life isn’t fair, then you’ll only focus on the latest horrible news, or a very unlucky event you experienced recently, because, again, you want to prove that you’re right at all costs.

Keep in mind, most of the time this happens subconsciously (you don’t even realize you are doing this).

So what do you do to change this? You simply repeat to yourself that your thoughts and outlook on life are wrong. You tell yourself that whatever you believe right now is erroneous, and silence that part of your mind that tells you life sucks.

For most people, this is really hard to do. Why? Because once you have been using certain thoughts, or thought patterns, for a long period of time, then those thoughts become part of your identity.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For example, if you keep having positive thoughts, eventually you become someone who is positive. The problem with depression is, you always tend to have a negative outlook, which doesn’t help you in any way.

So whenever you feel low, tell yourself your current outlook or attitude is wrong. It may be hard at first, but when you keep doing it you’ll be able to change your mindset.

3. Exercise and spend time outside

When you exercise, your body releases feel-good chemicals. So every time you work out and move your body, it’s almost as if you took an antidepressant.

If you are sad or depressed, then it’s crucial that you use this to your advantage. Find a physical activity you enjoy doing, and actually do it, not just once, but multiple times a week (if it’s light exercise, you may want to do it every day).

Again, when you’re depressed, you don’t feel like doing anything. So one thing you can do to ensure you are consistent is joining a gym, or a class. Not only will you have to pay in advance (so if you quit, you’ll waste a lot of money); you’ll also be surrounded by people who share the same interest or goal.

And even if these people don’t become your friends, you’ll get the chance to interact with other human beings. Sometimes when your mood is low you want to isolate yourself from the rest of the world, and stop meeting people, so it’s important that you do the opposite.

Besides moving your body, I also encourage you to spend time outside. Fresh air, sun exposure, and even nature sounds have been proven to affect our mood, so again, use this to your advantage! Thirty minutes a day will be enough to unwind and feel better.

Physical exercise is a natural antidepressant

4. Imagine everything is your fault

At first, this may seem counterintuitive.

However, when everything becomes your responsibility, it means you are in charge, and you have the power to change any situation.

Though it’s possible to be upset and blame ourselves, typically we tend to think of external factors: “life has been unfair to me”; “I’ve been so unlucky”; “why is everyone else so mean?”.

So from this day forward, I encourage you to think that everything is your fault. Obviously, you’re not doing this to feel bad about yourself. You’re doing this to understand that you are powerful, and that you are able to solve almost all of your current issues.

Sometimes life is unfair, and it has nothing to do with you. However, once you realize this, does it help you in any way? It doesn’t — it just makes you feel upset. It makes you focus on the issue, rather than the solution. It makes you focus on what you can’t do, rather than the possibilities you have.

Ultimately, your wellbeing is your responsibility. So don’t be afraid to ask for help, meet like-minded people, develop new habits, train your willpower, read inspiring books, change your environment if you need to.

Even the best therapist or the strongest antidepressant won’t do much if you don’t want to change. But there’s always going to be a part of you that is strong and keeps going no matter what.

Years ago, I had to deal with severe depression myself and yes, it was hard — probably the hardest time of my life. But at some point I decided I was going to change no matter what. It took me months to go back to a normal life: it was a very gradual process. But I made it.

If you are able to find something that’s bigger than you; if you realize your current outlook is wrong; if you take the time to exercise, and spend time outside; if you realize your mental health is your responsibility; and if you ask for help (I didn’t when I was depressed, and it was a huge mistake), then it’s almost guaranteed you’ll feel better.

Don’t let your current emotions define who you are. Be positive, and keep dreaming.