Got the winter blues? You are not alone

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As the gray and dreary days drag on through the dark winter months, people tend to feel a little down. The nights are long and the days are cloudy, the weather is cold, and people don’t go out much.

But the lack of sunlight also has a significant effect on our brain. Light helps our body create two types of neurotransmitters: serotonin and melatonin. Both are key in regulating mood and sleep.


What you need to know

  • Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression
  • Millions of adults are likely to suffer from SAD, although many may not know it
  • SAR occurs more often in women, and is more common in those who live further north

For most people, the feeling of sadness and unfamiliarity in the winter darkness is a fleeting feeling that doesn’t last long. In some cases, these mood changes are more severe and can affect how a person feels, thinks, and copes with everyday activities. For some people, it is a form of depression; the clinical term is seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

In most cases, SAD symptoms begin in the late fall or early winter and disappear in the spring and summer, known as winter depression or SAD. SAD is not considered a separate disease, but is a type of depression characterized by a recurring seasonal pattern with symptoms lasting about four to five months of the year.

Signs and symptoms

Thus, signs and symptoms of SAD include symptoms associated with major depression as well as some specific symptoms.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of major depression can include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, almost every day
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Change in appetite or weight
  • Problems with sleep
  • Feeling lethargic or excited
  • Having low energy
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • It’s hard to concentrate
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Additional symptoms specific to winter SBP may include:

  • Excessive sleep (hypersomnia)
  • Overeating, especially with cravings for carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Social withdrawal (the feeling of “hibernation”)

Millions of American adults may suffer from SAD, although many may not even know they have the condition. SAD is much more common in women than men, and is more common in those who live further north, where daylight hours are shorter in winter. In most cases, SAD begins at a young age.

Methods of treatment

Treatments are available that can help many people with SAD. They fall into four main categories that can be used individually or in combination:

  • Light therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Antidepressants
  • Vitamin D

Talk to your doctor about which treatment or combination of treatments is best for you. For tips on talking to your health care provider, see the National Institute of Mental Health newsletter “Taking Control of Your Mental Health: Tips for Talking to Your Health Care Professional.”

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Got the winter blues? You are not alone

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