Winter is Coming: Just the Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Winter is Coming: JuSeasonal Affective DisorderShort days, cold temperatures, weather that disrupts schedules and makes travel treacherous — winter is a challenge for many people, for many reasons. Add low moods, crying jags, irritability and other symptoms of depression and it’s enough to make you wonder if Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is to blame. How can you tell if you are experiencing SAD or just the doldrums of winter?

Severity

One way to tease apart winter blues and blahs from depression (seasonal or not) is the level of severity of your symptoms. While not every person suffering from SAD feels suicidal, thoughts of hurting or killing yourself are indications that this is a serious depression and not just a case of winter blues. If you have thoughts of killing yourself, feel worthless, struggle with guilt about your existence or believe that the world or your family would be better off without you, seek help immediately. It will be hard, but be honest and admit you are having these thoughts. Mental health treatment works, and you don’t have to feel this way.

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Tips and Tricks to Feel Better Quick

You’ve probably read online a few hundred ways to cheer yourself up when you’re down. Everything from a nice hot bath with scented oils to a strenuous aerobic workout have been suggested to help you snap out of it when you’re in a bad mood. If all that’s wrong is a bit of cabin fever and frayed nerves at the inconveniences of winter, these self-help tips will make a difference. You will be able to find quick fixes that work, whether they are reading inspirational texts or listening to Led Zeppelin at top volume, and you’ll discover that some of these tips really do lift your mood.

If you are struggling with SAD, however, these types of self-help tips won’t help much. You’ll feel depressed – sad, irritable, and on the verge of tears – most of the time, every day, for weeks in a row. And no matter how many self-help books you read or nice long baths you take, you’ll still feel depressed most of the time. There are ways to treat SAD, but most of the so-called cures for the winter blues won’t help with true depression. You need mental health treatment from a qualified professional skilled in assessing and treating depression.

Eating and Sleeping

Holiday parties, extra treats at the office and those delicious pies for dessert tend to lead to a few holiday pounds. While it’s annoying for sure, and can contribute to a low mood when your pants are a bit tight, a little restraint and a return to your regular eating habits can help most people get back to normal in a few weeks. However, if you experience weight changes beyond the expected holiday excess, or if you are losing weight or struggling with a loss of appetite, you might not be dealing with simple winter blues.

For people suffering from SAD, changes in appetite and sleep patterns can lead to weight gain or loss and crippling insomnia or hypersomnia. If you’re having trouble sleeping beyond just a day or two of holiday disruption, or if you find that you cannot function at home or work due to severe sleepiness, you may be struggling with SAD.

Just Not That Into It

Winter blues can make you feel blah about going out or having fun. Everything feels more difficult in winter, from getting dressed to getting to your event. You have to consider the weather, road conditions, etc. It’s normal to feel like it’s all more trouble than it’s worth. But when you have a case of winter doldrums, you can be talked into going anyway and usually end up glad you went. You can have a great time socializing with friends and enjoy your social or recreational activities once you push yourself to get out the door. It’s just that “hump” of feeling like it’s all too difficult that you have to get over.

However, for people struggling with SAD, you don’t feel like doing much of anything, and when you do, you don’t enjoy it. Anhedonia –the loss of pleasure – is one of the saddest symptoms of SAD. Along with no longer enjoying pleasurable activities, you may also notice a loss of libido. Feeling like you just can’t enjoy anything is not typical for occasional low moods or winter blues. If you find yourself increasingly isolated and unable to enjoy doing things you used to enjoy, you may have SAD.

Whether you revel in it or just grit your teeth and get through it, winter is part of our landscape. Getting through it without depression is possible, and treatment can make a real difference. Don’t suffer through the long dark nights of winter alone or unhappy. SAD is a treatable condition, and mental health treatment can help you feel much better.