The SADdest Time of the Year: Coping with the Winter Blues

The SADdest Time of the Year: Coping with the Winter Blues

Feb 09 2021

The “winter blues” aren’t just in your head. For some people, fall and winter bring on a subtype of depression called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

The feeling might be all too familiar to you—you find yourself more tired than usual, you crave heavy foods, your sleeping pattern is out of whack and you feel depressed and listless. If you suffer from depression, you might also experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a subcategory of depression related to the changes in seasons. And with the ongoing stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, the winter blues may feel even more blue than years past.

What is SAD?

SAD or seasonal affective disorder is depression brought on by the lack of light during the fall and winter months. SAD symptoms typically start in fall, as the days get shorter, and continue through the winter. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring and early summer. Symptoms include oversleeping, weight gain, low energy and overall feelings of depression. The most likely cause for SAD is the amount of reduced sunlight during fall and winter (a big factor for Michiganders)—which throws off your body’s internal clock and alters levels of serotonin and melatonin in your body. Risk factors for SAD include family history of SAD, a previous diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder and living far from the equator (like our beloved mitten state: Lansing is 2,941 miles from the equator).

How you can cope.

While it’s tempting to wrap yourself in a blanket and stay inside, you can take proactive measures to lessen the symptoms of SAD and mitigate its effects. For example, outdoor activities or physical exercise can boost your mood. Try keeping a strict sleep schedule to make sure you’re getting plenty of rest, which prevents crashing or oversleeping. Consider engaging in relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga to calm your mind and counter the effects of SAD.

Note: you may not be comfortable with all of these activities during COVID-19 due to social distancing recommendations.

You’re not alone.

Seasonal affective disorder is completely normal. Many people start to feel a little blue during the dark cold winter months and remember, it is treatable. But don’t dismiss SAD as a seasonal funk or brush it off as a light case of the winter blues if symptoms interfere with your everyday life; if they affect your sleep, make you depressed for days at a time or make you feel suicidal, see your doctor right away. Medical treatments for SAD may include vitamin D supplements, light therapy and medication.

If you’re a Priority Health member, there are counselors available to help—you don’t even have to call your primary care provider first. Just be sure to have your membership card nearby to verify your coverage. Call 616.464.8500 or 800.673.8043, Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. All calls are confidential.

Not a Priority Health member? Check with your health insurance provider or call 211 for statewide support in Michigan. Learn more here about the Michigan 211 crisis services available to you statewide.

Even with SAD, you can find ways to enjoy the fall and winter seasons. Know the symptoms and seek treatment so you can live happily and healthily, year-round.