The long, dark winter days can be difficult for many people, but for some, it is an especially hard season. The “winter blues” can strike when the days are shorter. If you find yourself struggling during the fall and winter months, you are not alone – and there is no need to wait until spring arrives to start feeling better.
What are the winter blues?
“Winter blues” is a layman's term to describe what professionals have called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in the past and now refer to as Major Depression with a Seasonal Pattern. Winter blues affects 5% to 6% of Americans each year.
The winter blues are characterized by symptoms like:
- Increased need to sleep
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Social withdrawal
- Increased appetite
- A loss of interest or pleasure in activities the person normally enjoys
“The winter blues are linked to the length of the day and the number of daylight hours you're getting,” says Kylene Krause, PhD, clinical manager and licensed psychologist at Holland Hospital Outpatient Behavioral Health Services. This is because reduced sunlight in the fall and winter months disrupts the body's natural internal clock and reduces serotonin, which affects mood and energy levels.
For people struggling with the winter blues, symptoms typically start to appear in the fall. Symptoms may start as relatively mild but can worsen as the days get shorter and shorter.
Beating the blues.
The most widely used treatment prescribed by doctors is phototherapy, which is administered via a lightbox that emits a full spectrum of light. 70% of patients find relief within a few weeks of treatment. Other treatments include vitamin D, antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
If your symptoms are milder, sometimes spending time outside or even near a window can help. Dr. Krause recommends moving your desk near a window during the winter months if possible. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, doing things you enjoy, spending time with loved ones, eating healthy foods and exercising for a minimum of 30 minutes a day three times a week, preferably outside. Even though it’s cold you can bundle up and still get that sunlight that your body needs to feel better in the winter months.
One of the most important steps you can take is to reach out to friends and family, let them know you’re struggling and ask for support. Ask loved ones to help by calling you to make sure you’re out of bed or scheduling a weekly walk.
“I encourage people to not wait to get help,” says Dr. Krause. “Help is out there.”
Where can I learn more?
Holland Hospital Behavioral Health Services offers a broad range of inpatient and outpatient mental health services that treat the whole person—mind, body and spirit. If you feel that you may need formal treatment for the winter blues, contact your primary care provider. They can help come up with an individualized plan for you that may include a referral for the services provided at Holland Hospital.