Your Guide to Beating the Winter Blues

Don’t be fooled by the name, “winter blues”; it might sound like something that can easily be brushed off but in reality, it affects around 15 million Americans each year. The lack of sunlight, long gloomy days, and tough Metro Detroit winters make our communities even more susceptible to negative mood and mental health changes.


Know the Difference between Winter Blues and SAD

Winter blues is often confused with a condition called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Both have similar symptoms but differ due to their patterns and key features. Dr. Matthew Rudorfer, a mental health expert at NIH explains the key differences between the two.

“Winter blues is a general term, not a medical diagnosis. It’s fairly common, and it’s more mild than serious. It usually clears up on its own in a fairly short amount of time. “Seasonal affective disorder, though, is different. It’s a well-defined clinical diagnosis that’s related to the shortening of daylight hours,” says Rudorfer. “It interferes with daily functioning over a significant period of time.”

The key difference? The patterns. Winter blues tends to clear up on its own and can often be related to factors such as the holidays, family troubles, the weather, etc. Whereas seasonal affective disorder is recurring. It tends to come around the same time every year and clears up by the time spring and summer come around. It’s important to know the difference between the two so that you can treat and combat them in the best way possible.


Symptoms you Should Be on the Lookout For:

  • Fatigue and difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Depression symptoms
  • Increased irritability
  • Lack of interest in typical everyday activities
  • Lethargy
  • Reduced libido
  • Unhappiness
  • Weight gain or weight loss

What You Can Do

  • Light therapy: This treatment has proven helpful in minimizing symptoms of SAD. An artificial light source tricks the brain into thinking you are absorbing sunlight and as a result produces serotonin. Common examples include LED lamps or alarm clocks that mimic the sun.
  • Healthy diet: Just like the body, the brain performs its best when it is nourished by healthy foods. Try to avoid sugary treats and processed foods that will slow down your body and your mind.
  • Practice gratitude and mindfulness: Start each morning or conclude your night by journaling positivity from your day. Doing this will help direct your thoughts into healthy mindsets as you battle the winter blues.
  • Exercise: Maintaining a regular exercise schedule can help alleviate stress, manage anxiety, and boost one’s overall mood.
  • Stay connected with loved ones: While this won’t increase serotonin levels in the brain, connecting with family and friends can put you in a better mood.
  • Get professional help: Therapy, counseling, and professional help is not something to be frowned upon. You are not alone and reaching out for help can be the best solution in some circumstances.

Whether it is practicing mindfulness, reducing stress to avoid burnout, or seeking professional help, there are several strategies employers can share with employees to support workplace mental health. Click here for additional employer resources.