Skip to main content

Is It the Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder


Is It the Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder

The temperature is stuck in the single digits. All through the day, the sunlight is filtered through thick grey clouds. Your fingers and toes are permanently cold, but even worse, your spirit seems frozen. Is this how you experience winter months? If so, you might have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a condition that affects many people in the winter when the light is low and summer seems ages away.

What is SAD?

SAD is a cyclical type of depression usually suffered when daylight and temperatures decrease. The exact physiological cause of SAD is unknown, but according to the National Mental Health Association, it could be related to changes in melatonin levels, body temperature and sleep patterns. SAD is more common among people living in higher altitudes, younger populations and females.

What’s the Difference Between SAD and the Winter Blues?

It’s important to note the difference between SAD and the “winter blues.” The “winter blues” can usually be overcome with increased physical activity and increased amounts of light in the living and work environment. SAD sufferers may need more intensive treatment, specifically light therapy or, in extreme cases, antidepressants. Only a trained clinician can accurately distinguish between depression, SAD and a case of the winter blues. The questions below are a way for you to learn more about how you may be feeling this winter; however, you should call the counseling center for a more in-depth assessment.

  • Do you feel like you have less energy than normal?
  • Do you sleep more and wake up feeling tired?
  • Does your mood change more often (i.e. more anxious, irritable, sad or depressed) and more quickly?
  • Do you feel less productive or creative?
  • Has your weight or appetite changed?
  • Have you experienced difficulties with memory, motivation or concentration?
  • Has your pattern of going out or socializing changed?
  • Is it more difficult to deal with daily stress?
  • Do you have trouble feeling enthusiastic about the future or enjoying your life?

Living With SAD

There are numerous ways to treat SAD. Students with SAD may want to start with these simple suggestions:

  • Devote more time to exercising and maintaining a healthy diet in wintertime.
  • Consider scheduling major life changes and projects for other times of the year.
  • Educate your family and close friends about SAD to gain their understanding and support.
  • Get as much natural light as possible.
  • Install brighter bulbs in your home and work environment.
  • Maintain the same daily pattern of waking and sleeping.
  • Dress warmly to conserve energy and maintain body heat, especially if you have a long walk to class.
  • Try to simplify your life and eliminate stress.
  • Plan a winter vacation to a warm and sunny climate! Spring break is an excellent time for an excursion.

If your depression persists, discuss your symptoms with your physician or mental health counselor. You may need more intensive therapy or medication.