4 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

If you’ve ever found yourself feeling rather blah during the winter months, you have likely experienced the winter blues. This very common condition affects just about every one of us at some point when we notice a shift in our moods during the colder, darker days of winter. It’s normal to feel down, sluggish, or not quite yourself during this time. 

The winter blues are usually mild and do not affect your ability to live and enjoy life. If you are concerned that your mood is very down or preventing you from doing everyday activities, it’s possible that you are experiencing depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), formerly know as major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern.

This article will describe the differences between the winter blues and seasonal affective disorder. It will also share ideas for how to start feeling better. 

Girl sitting on a wall and having a tough time

BenAkiba

Symptoms

People with the winter blues usually notice a dip in their moods during the winter months. Symptoms usually resolve on their own but can intensify during the holidays because of stressful family gatherings and missing loved ones. Common symptoms include:

  • Low energy
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling down
  • Sluggishness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleeping more
  • Lower activity level
  • Weight gain

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is generally associated with the colder, darker months of the year. It is believed to be triggered by the lack of sunlight during the late autumn and winter seasons. The shorter days can disrupt your body’s internal circadian rhythm, leading to low energy and a depressed mood. 

Winter Blues vs. SAD

The winter blues is a common condition that usually resolves on its own. SAD is a clinical diagnosis that is more serious and requires treatment. People with SAD often experience the same symptoms as those with winter blues. In addition, other symptoms of SAD may include:

  • Persistently depressed, sad, or empty mood
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Sleep changes
  • Appetite changes
  • Withdrawal
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If you have been experiencing thoughts of death or suicide, seek help right away.

Possible risk factors of SAD include:

  • Gender: Women are more likely to experience SAD.
  • Location: Those who live further from the equator.
  • Depression: A history of depression or a mood disorder in you or your family raises your risk. 

Tips to Beat the Winter Blues

While the winter blues can return every winter season, it is possible to prevent some or all of the symptoms. These steps may help ease the symptoms so you can start feeling better.

Light Therapy

Light therapy uses a lightbox to attempt to replace the daylight hours that we miss during dark winter months. Studies show that light therapy may relieve SAD symptoms in up to 70% of patients who try it.

Light therapy involves sitting in front of a lightbox every morning for 30 minutes. Your healthcare provider may recommend longer sessions depending on the severity of your symptoms. Light therapy is usually given daily until the warmer spring months. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that aims to help individuals identify their negative thoughts, question those thoughts, and engage in more helpful behaviors. It has been proven very effective at treating winter blues and seasonal affective disorder. In fact, in some research, CBT was found to be a more effective long-term treatment than light therapy because it has been shown to potentially lower the risk of symptoms coming back each winter. 

Vitamin D Supplements

Being exposed to natural sunlight causes our bodies to produce vitamin D. When the days become shorter and we lack natural light, many of us experience a vitamin D deficiency. Studies have shown that low levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of depression. 

If you are experiencing a lowered mood during the winter months, your healthcare provider may recommend starting a daily vitamin D supplement. This supplement may be started in the fall and continued through the spring. Ask your healthcare provider about the right dosage for you.

Self-Care Strategies

Many of the symptoms of winter blues can be improved with simple self-care practices. If you have been feeling down, pick an activity that sounds enjoyable and see how it goes. Some ideas to get you started include:

  • Spend time outdoors
  • Go for a walk
  • Meet friends for ice skating or playing in the snow
  • Engage in physical activity
  • Connect with friends or family
  • Eat energizing, nutritious foods
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs

Treating SAD

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) usually requires treatment beyond self-care practices. Treatment options include light therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and antidepressant medication. These treatments are often used in combination. Wellbutrin (bupropion) is an antidepressant that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat winter depression. Fortunately, SAD is treatable, and most people who seek treatment start to notice improvement within weeks.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

It’s time to see a medical professional if you notice that your mood is very down, preventing you from enjoying your life, or impacting your ability to function. If you have been having thoughts of death or suicide, seek help right away.

It’s important to note that you do not have to wait for your mood to become very low before talking with your healthcare provider. Share the symptoms you've been experiencing, or a pattern of worsening mood in the winter months, and ask for treatment suggestions. 

Summary 

The winter blues are a common condition that occur during the colder, darker months of the year. Common symptoms include feeling down and sluggish. You may notice yourself sleeping more as well. These symptoms are triggered by the lack of natural light that our bodies are used to. 

The winter blues are different from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a type of depression that occurs during the winter months and requires treatment. Some ways to start feeling better include light therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, vitamin D supplements, and self-care strategies. Talk with your healthcare provider if you are concerned about your mood or are having thoughts of suicide. 

A Word From Verywell

If you have been dreading the colder, darker days of winter, know that you are not alone. The frigid temperatures and lack of sunlight affect just about everyone. Make a plan to spend time outdoors when you can and connect with loved ones. The winter blues usually resolve on their own. If you are concerned about how low your mood has become, speak with a medical professional. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do we get depressed during the winter?

    Depression with a seasonal pattern is believed to be related to changes in sunlight. When our bodies do not receive the amount of light that we are used to, our circadian rhythms are disrupted. This leads to disruptions in serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood. Less sunlight also causes our bodies to make more melatonin, which makes us feel sleepier and less energetic. 

  • What causes depression?

    Depression can be caused by a wide variety of factors such as a chemical imbalance in the brain, genetics, stressful life events, trauma, and seasonal factors. 

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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