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Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

1. What are the “Winter Blues”?

“Winter Blues” are generally thought of as feelings of sadness, loneliness, depression and even anxiety in the winter months, and especially during or around holiday time.

Any factor that can cause depression, stress, or anxiety in an individual can bring on the blues or worsen those conditions at holiday time. Stressful family situations and illness in the family can be predisposing factors. Unrealistic expectations, financial pressures, and excessive commitments can also contribute.

And certain people may feel anxious or depressed around the winter holidays due to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sometimes referred to as seasonal depression.

2. What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that becomes commonplace as the days grow shorter from fall through winter. Many people experience depression as a result of colder, darker days, and often find that they eat and sleep slightly more during the winter. The effects of SAD can range from mild to severe and increase among people who live farther away from the equator.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) begins and ends at about the same times every year. For most people with SAD, symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping energy and causing moodiness. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.

3. What are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

In most cases, seasonal affective disorder symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer. Less commonly, people with the opposite pattern have symptoms that begin in spring or summer. In either case, symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.

Signs and symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder may include:

Fall and winter SAD symptoms (sometimes called winter depression) may include:

Spring and summer SAD symptoms (sometimes called summer depression) may include:

4. What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The specific cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown. Some factors that may come into play include:

5. How is Seasonal Affective Disorder Treated?

It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide.

Treatment for SAD may include light therapy (phototherapy), medications and psychotherapy.

Don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the “winter blues” that you have to tough out on your own. Take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.