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The Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): What's the difference?

If you’ve ever felt the “winter blues” or the “holiday blues,” you’re not alone. The winter blues affects tens of millions of Americans each year as the days get shorter and the dark nights get longer.

The lack of sunlight in the winter season is one reason why people may feel the winter blues.

Shorter days give us much less time to enjoy the benefits of sunlight—and a lack of sunlight can have an effect on our health. Research shows that sunlight boosts vitamin D in the body as well as boosts mood.

But how do you know when you have a case of the winter blues or something more serious?

Let’s talk about the difference between the winter blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What is the Winter Blues?

The winter blues, or holiday blues, is a temporary feeling of sadness or negative symptoms that last for up to two weeks at a time in the winter months.

People with the winter blues can have days where they feel under the weather or unmotivated, but their symptoms go away after a short period of time and they also have days where they feel good.

Symptoms of the Winter Blues

Someone with the winter blues can experience symptoms like:

  • Feelings of low energy or motivation that last less than two weeks

  • Feelings of sadness or irritability that last less than two weeks

  • Fatigue

  • Social withdrawal

This is different from what is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known by its acronym, SAD.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

SAD is a disorder where a person has prolonged feelings of depressive symptoms that last for more than two weeks at a time.

People who experience SAD are generally happy during the warmer, sunnier months of the year, but become depressed during the winter season for up to 4 or 5 months at a time. SAD affects more women than men, and most people who experience SAD are between 18 and 30 years old.

More than 10 million people in the United States are affected by SAD each year. Even more people experience milder cases of SAD that affect their day-to-day lives in the winter season.

Symptoms of SAD

Not everyone experiences the same symptoms, but some common symptoms of SAD include:

  • Change in sleep or oversleeping

  • Feeling unmotivated to go out, and wanting to “hibernate”

  • Change in appetite, usually increased appetite

  • Weight gain

  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities

  • Persistent low energy

SAD symptoms generally disappear or recede again in the spring, when the weather becomes warmer and days of sunlight become longer again.

Treatments for SAD

It’s important to get help for SAD. Some treatments for SAD include:

  • Counseling

  • Phototherapy or light therapy

  • Self-care. A counselor or therapist can help you come up with a self-care regimen.

  • Spending time outdoors each day

  • Antidepressant medication

Many people report having prolonged feelings of depression, isolation, and other issues during the winter season. If you or someone you know is struggling, please know that you are not alone.

Life’s Journey Counseling specializes in working with people who are experiencing the winter blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder.

To speak with a therapist, please call or text 502-385-4151 or fill out the online form. We’re here to help.


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