If you’ve ever found yourself feeling bored during the winter months, you’ve probably experienced the winter blues. This very common condition affects almost every one of us when we notice changes in our mood during the cold, dark winter. It’s normal to feel depressed, sluggish, or not entirely normal during this time.
Winter blues are usually mild and don’t affect your ability to live and enjoy life. If you’re concerned that you’re feeling very low or hindering your daily activities, you may be experiencing depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), formerly known as major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns.
This article will describe the difference between winter blues and seasonal affective disorder. It will also share ideas on how to start feeling better.
People with winter blues often notice that they feel depressed during the winter months. Symptoms usually subside on their own, but may intensify during the holidays due to the stress of family gatherings and missing loved ones. Common symptoms include:
- low energy
- difficulty concentrating
- sleep more
- lower activity level
- weight gain
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that is often associated with cooler, darker months of the year. It is thought to be caused by a lack of sunlight in late fall and winter. Shorter days can disrupt your body’s internal circadian rhythm, leading to low energy levels and low mood.
Winter Melancholy and Sadness
Winter blues are a common condition that usually resolves on their own. SAD is a more severe clinical diagnosis that requires treatment. People with SAD often experience the same symptoms as those with winter blues. Additionally, other symptoms of SAD may include:
- persistent depression, sadness, or emptiness
- feeling hopeless or worthless
- sleep changes
- Appetite changes
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
- thoughts of death or suicide
If you have been having thoughts of death or suicide, seek help right away.
Possible risk factors for SAD include:
- Gender: Women are more likely to experience SAD.
- Location: Those who live farther from the equator.
- Depression: A history of depression or mood disorders in you or in your family increases your risk.
How to Cope with COVID-19 and Seasonal Affective Disorder
The Secret to Beating the Winter Blues
While winter blues occur every winter, some or all of the symptoms can be prevented. These steps may help relieve symptoms and allow you to start feeling better.
Light therapy uses light boxes to try and replace the daylight hours we miss during the dark winter months. Studies have shown that light therapy can relieve symptoms of SAD in up to 70% of patients who try light therapy.
Light therapy consists of sitting in front of a light box for 30 minutes each morning. Your healthcare provider may recommend a longer course of treatment depending on the severity of your symptoms. Phototherapy is usually done daily until the warm spring months.
What are phototherapy lamps and how are they used?
cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy designed to help individuals identify their negative thoughts, question those thoughts, and engage in more helpful behaviors. It has been shown to be very effective in treating winter blues and seasonal affective disorder. In fact, in some studies, CBT has been found to be a more effective long-term treatment than light therapy, as it has been shown to reduce the risk of recurring symptoms each winter.
Vitamin D Supplements
Exposure to natural sunlight causes our bodies to produce vitamin D. Many of us are vitamin D deficient when the days are shorter and we lack natural light. Research shows that low levels of vitamin D increase the risk of depression.
If you’re feeling down during the winter months, your healthcare provider may recommend that you start a daily vitamin D supplement. This supplementation can begin in the fall and continue into the spring. Ask your healthcare provider about the dosage that is right for you.
Many symptoms of the winter blues can be improved with simple self-care practices. If you’ve been feeling down, pick an activity that sounds pleasant and see how it works. Some ideas to help you get started include:
- Spend time outdoors
- go for a walk
- meet friends to skate or play in the snow
- Participate in sports activities
- Connect with friends or family
- Eat Energetic, Nutritious Foods
- Avoid alcohol and drugs
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) often requires treatment beyond self-care. Treatment options include light therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and antidepressants. These treatments are often used in combination. Wellbutrin (bupropion) is an antidepressant that has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of winter depression. Fortunately, SAD is treatable, and most people who seek treatment begin to notice improvement within a few weeks.
When to see a healthcare provider
If you find yourself feeling very down, not enjoying life, or affecting your ability to work, it’s time to see your doctor. If you have been having thoughts of death or suicide, seek help right away.
It’s important to note that you don’t have to wait until you get really down before talking to your healthcare provider. Share symptoms you’re experiencing, or patterns of mood worsening during the winter months, and seek treatment advice.
Winter blues are a common occurrence during the cooler, darker months of the year. Common symptoms include low mood and sluggishness. You may notice that you sleep more, too. These symptoms are triggered by the lack of natural light our bodies are accustomed to.
Winter blues differ from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a type of depression that occurs during the winter and requires treatment. Some ways to start feeling better include light therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, vitamin D supplements, and self-care strategies. Consult your healthcare provider if you are concerned about your emotions or have suicidal thoughts.
If you’ve been dreading the cold, dark days of winter, know that you’re not alone. Cold temperatures and lack of sunlight affect almost everyone. Make a plan to spend as much time outdoors as possible and connect with loved ones. The winter blues usually resolve on their own. If you’re concerned about how low your mood is, talk to a medical professional.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do we feel depressed in winter?
Depression with seasonal patterns is thought to be related to changes in sunlight. When our bodies are not receiving the amount of light we are used to, our circadian rhythms are disrupted. This results in a disruption of serotonin, a feel-good neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. Less sunlight also makes our bodies produce more melatonin, which makes us feel sleepy and low on energy.
What causes depression?
Depression can be caused by a variety of factors, such as chemical imbalances in the brain, genetics, stressful life events, trauma, and seasonal factors.