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6 Signs You May Have the Winter Blues

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola

When winter arrives and daylight hours are shorter, if you’re someone who feels more than a little sad, you may have something called seasonal affective disorder, aka SAD. But how can you tell whether your feelings are normal as you adjust to winter hours, or if you actually have SAD and possibly may need a little extra help in fighting it?


The Good Men Project offers some symptoms that may clue you in that you need extra help:

  • Having low energy
  • Hypersomnia
  • Overeating
  • Weight gain
  • Craving for carbohydrates
  • Social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”)

There’s actually a science to seasonal affective disorder, which is a form of depression linked to the lower sunlight exposure that typically occurs in winter months. For example, SAD affects only 1 percent of Floridians, compared to 9 percent of Alaskans. Women are also more predisposed to having SAD than men.

It’s quite common for people to notice changes in their mood, energy levels and food cravings when the weather turns colder and the days get shorter, but this slump, known as “winter blues,” is different from true SAD.

In the case of SAD, symptoms are so severe that they interfere with daily life. Besides the featured article’s list of signs of SAD, some people may even have trouble concentrating and having trouble carrying on with their day-to-day lives.

If this pertains to you, know that a whole host of physiological processes are directed by your body’s circadian rhythm, which is calibrated by exposure to natural sunlight and darkness. Regular sunlight exposure is a crucial part of this equation. Many have become familiar with its importance for optimizing your vitamin D levels — and there is research showing that not only is SAD more common in people with low vitamin D levels, but improving levels improves SAD symptoms.

This is one reason why full-spectrum light therapy is often recommended for the treatment of SAD. In fact, light therapy alone and placebo were both more effective than the antidepressant Prozac, even for the treatment of moderate to severe depression, in an eight-week-long study.

The idea is to try to simulate exposure to natural sunlight during times of the year when it may not be available. Researchers explained that sitting in front of a light box, first thing in the morning, daily from early fall until spring, may be necessary to help relieve SAD symptoms.

Further, if you know that SAD symptoms tend to come back for you every winter, you may want to start light therapy earlier, such as during late summer. Staying active and making it a point to get outdoors, even briefly, every day also can help fight SAD.

Additionally, in many cases, leading a healthy lifestyle, one that helps you to relieve stress and provides the nutrients your body needs physically, will help you to continue functioning with SAD, as well.

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