Winter Blues or Depression?

Winter Blues or Depression?


Wisconsin is not the easiest place to live – especially in the winter.  Often stuck inside, people are missing the sunlight and fresh air they benefit from in other seasons.  Many socialize less, avoid outside activity, and may even put on a few extra pounds from those “comfort foods”.  Sleep can also be affected from these unhealthy habits.  All of this can lead to what is known as the “winter blues”.


The clinical name for the “winter blues” is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.  The most significant characteristic of SAD is that it is cyclical.  Most in this northern area begin to feel SAD in the fall, find that it worsens in the winter, and that it begins to recede in the spring.  There are many simple ways to work through SAD.  Get as much sunlight as you can, exercise every day, and keep yourself on a regular sleep schedule despite your desire to sleep more.  Another option is to purchase brighter light bulbs to simulate sunshine.


Why is it important to figure out if you have depression?  Simply put, it is to improve your quality of life.  If you are depressed, you are feeling weighed down and will continue to be sad until that depression is gone.  Spring and/or more light will not lift your depression.  And remember, depression doesn’t only affect you.  It impacts those you love, work, and socialize with.  Also important to know is that depressed people sometimes don’t think clearly and may make permanent decisions to try to escape the sadness: divorce, quitting their job, moving, etc.  Unfortunately, none of those major changes will take away the depression.

There are two main categories of depression: situational and clinical.  When something tragic happens, like the death of a loved one or receiving a diagnosis of a disease, we can develop situational depression.  This type of sadness will gradually diminish when we become adjusted to the new reality.  Clinical depression, however, is a more persistent feeling of sadness which can lead to physical and behavioral problems that last for years such as those as listed below:


  • Difficulty in making decisions
  • Hard to concentrate
  • Avoiding things that used to give you pleasure (including sex)
  • Spending less time with friends and family
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Changes in sleep pattern
  • Frequently feeling sad or irritable
  • Having pessimistic or hopeless thoughts
  • Suffering from aches and pains that won’t go away
  • Wondering if others would be better off without you – considering suicide


Should you seek help for your depression?  Yes, if it is negatively affecting your life.  Otherwise your depression can deepen and go on for years.  It could even become a threat to your life as one in 10 people with depression commit suicide.


Check with your doctor first to find out if what you are feeling is related to a medical condition.  If it is not, seek out a mental health professional.  You may find that counseling will make a great improvement in your life and the lives of those you love.  In addition, develop habits that will improve your mental outlook: physical activity, healthy eating, adequate sleep, socializing, and eliminating those things that cause you unnecessary stress.


Take care of yourself.  You are worth it.

Karen Wrolson MS, MEd