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Winter Blues… or Something More

Posted February 08, 2018 by Patricia Galbraith ATR, LPCC-S

Patricia Galbraith

This time of year, it feels like our world is gray and gloomy, bright sunshine will never reappear and the cold winds dampen our spirits at every turn. It’s easy to experience the winter blues.

But, for some people winter is quite literally depressing. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer.

As the days become short and dark, people with SAD develop a predictable set of symptoms. Sufferers have dramatic drops in energy, difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite that include craving sweet or starchy foods, increased irritability, and feelings of hopelessness.  SAD can also lead to feeling sluggish, agitated and even anxious. Since the syndrome is linked to a lack of light, people with SAD may become depressed during cloudy weather at any time of year, or if they are confined to windowless offices or basement apartments.

The specific cause of SAD is unknown, but factors such as circadian rhythm, serotonin levels and melatonin levels have been found to have a major impact on severity. Seasonal decreases in sunlight are correlated with disruptions in your body’s internal clock, which can lead to sleep disturbance and can trigger depression. Women and younger adults have been found to be at higher risk.

You may be wondering why one should be concerned about “winter blues,” but SAD can have negative effects on work performance, relationship satisfaction and overall quality of life. SAD negatively impacts one’s ability to gain restful sleep, to focus on tasks, and to maintain the motivation and interest to engage in social activities. 

The good news…there is hope. SAD is treatable. Many have found relief with:

  • Light therapy, also called phototherapy
  • Medications, such as antidepressants
  • Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy
  • Mind-body connection using relaxation techniques, meditation and guided imagery

It may be difficult to envision life out of bed while suffering from SAD, but if left untreated, SAD can escalate to feelings of worthlessness or thoughts of death.  If you are finding yourself battling with thoughts of death or suicide, please contact your healthcare provider or the Summit County Suicide Prevention Coalition at 330.434.9144 for help. Do not hesitate to visit your local emergency room for support, if you find yourself unable to reach your specific provider while in crisis. For more information on Summa's Behavioral Health services, call 330.379.8190 in Akron, 330.615.5460 in Barberton and 330.319.9755 in Hudson.

With the support of loved ones and caring professionals, you can find your zest for life and overcome SAD.


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If your situation is an emergency, call 911.