Feeling down this time of year? You’re not alone. During the winter months, many people find that colder temperatures and less daylight hours have a negative effect on their mood and energy levels.
If this sounds familiar, it’s extremely important to identify the extent to which you’re experiencing these feelings in order to effectively manage and treat them. Here’s how to tell the difference between the “winter blues” Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and ongoing depression.
Winter Blues vs. SAD
The winter blues are extremely common, especially in the months following the holiday season. The return to our regular routines and the arrival of December’s credit card bill can leave us feeling stressed, unhappy and unmotivated.
People experiencing the winter blues may find themselves wanting to stay inside longer, stay in bed longer and eat more carbohydrates.
SAD is a more severe version of the winter blues. People battling SAD often experience the same symptoms as those associated with the winter blues but to a more extreme degree.
The difference between the blues and SAD is the blues will go away with the right self-care while SAD may require treatment by a medical professional. However, there are some things you can do on your own to help treat the winter blues as well as alleviate the symptoms of SAD.
Dr. Jill Amos, Principal Clinical Psychologist for BlueCare of Tennessee, has provided some tips for managing these conditions:
- Increase light exposure. Get as much sun as possible. If the weather permits, go outside and walk with a friend. If it’s too cold, open the blinds and sit next to a window. Even on cloudy days, the exposure to natural light can still help to improve your mood.
- Eat right. Avoid foods that are high in fat and sugar. Unhealthy choices, like cake and cookies, may provide temporary pleasure, but can have a negative effect on mood in the long run. Curb your cravings by making a dessert that uses seasonal fresh fruits, like apples or pears.
- Stay active. If you know you struggle during the winter months, be proactive and schedule enjoyable activities with family and friends. Invite a loved one to go on a hike or volunteer with you for an afternoon.
If you notice a friend or family member is exhibiting signs of the winter blues or SAD, Dr. Amos suggests setting aside one-on-one time with them to discuss how they are doing and, if necessary, offering to join them to talk with a doctor or therapist.
Learn more about managing health conditions.*
Unlike the winter blues and SAD, the symptoms of depression are not limited to a specific time of year. An individual suffering from depression will likely experience many of the symptoms associated with the winter blues and SAD, but during the spring, summer and fall months as well.
Other signs of depression include unexplained aches or pains, decreased productivity, alcohol or drug abuse and an overall loss of interest in daily life.
Not all depression is the same. The severity and duration of symptoms can vary depending on the type of depression as well as the person’s age and gender. Seek the advice of a medical professional if you believe that you or someone you know is suffering from depression.
Everyone has bad days, and feeling sad from time to time is a normal part of life. By knowing how to identify the type of sadness you’re experiencing, you’ll be able to determine your best treatment options and be on your way to a happier and healthier you.
Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.