Are You Feeling the Winter Blues?
by Susanne Flood
While we know the days are getting longer, this time of year between winter holidays and Spring can feel like a long dark tunnel. Too many full weeks of work and school can create an experience of weariness and the grey skies of winter can evoke the doldrums. But what is it that we’re actually experiencing and what can we do about it?
For many, the emotional experience of Winter Blues is marked by sadness and lack of motivation, impacting a few days very heavily. One might even call out of work or avoid household tasks like cleaning the litter box. Overall, however, with Winter Blues we can keep going to tackle the vast majority of our daily activities most of the time. Our lives are not upended, but feel untended. One reason we feel the Winter Blues is the transition from sunny days to grey days and the lack of sunlight and therefore creation of a vitamin D deficiency. While it is called a vitamin, vitamin D functions as a hormone in our bodies and is involved in several regulatory systems. Other reasons include: more lonely days since Winter often means less time in parties and crowds; less stimulating days since Winter often means less time outdoors and more time inside; less active days since Winter often means hibernating rather than being active; less healthy eating since Winter often means holiday and hibernation patterns of eating rather than fresh fruits and veggies that may mark our summer appetites. The good news is that we can banish the blues with some careful attention to getting enough sun or vitamin D supplementation, being sure to exercise and ‘eat the rainbow’ (fruits and vegetables of every color), as well as seeking out safe social and outdoor settings to increase stimulation. Does that sound like the Winter Challenge to anyone else?
There are three other emotional experiences to differentiate the Winter Blues from. The first is SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) which is characterized as upending life more intensely than the Winter Blues, on the level of Depression but only for one season of the year. SAD interrupts our ability to navigate daily tasks and may jeopardize our job with the number of days called out. It is marked by feelings of hopelessness, fatigue and unbalanced eating and sleeping. Generally, those with SAD will need more intensive support through SSRIs but can have overlapping treatments with Winter Blues (lightbox therapy/vitamin D, physical activity, social contact, etc.). The second is Depression, which is like SAD, but year-round. Feelings of meaninglessness, aimlessness and lethargy take over and create a slowed down feeling to life. Professional support is necessary in navigating the treatment of Depression. Lastly, where SAD and Depression differ from one another in frequency, Suicidality differs from the Winter Blues in intensity. While someone struggling with suicidal thoughts might have the Winter Blues, SAD or Depression, the inverse is not true (that someone with the Winter Blues, SAD or Depression is necessarily having suicidal thoughts). Suicidal ideation and action is in its own category and can benefit from the interventions listed above, but like Depression and SAD, is best treated professionally.
If you or someone you love is struggling to find meaning in life, here are some resources for support:
1-800-273-8255 or chat online: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/
Crisis Text Line: https://www.crisistextline.org Text HOME to 741-741
LGBTQIA Suicide Prevention Support https://www.thetrevorproject.org
Montgomery County Mobile Crisis provides not only immediate support for crisis
situations, but also assistance with managing recurring or future crises. Support is available
24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-855-634-HOPE (4673). This service is available to
anyone in Montgomery County, including children, teens, adults, and families.
Individuals in mental health or emotional crisis may sometimes need emergency help such as
phone counseling, an outreach visit, or a hospital stay to help them manage the crisis and remain safe. Chester County contracts with Valley Creek Crisis Center for a consumer-run Warm Line, telephone crisis counseling, a walk-in center, mobile crisis outreach, and an adult crisis residential program which provides short-term (up to 10 days) voluntary residential care to help stabilize consumers in a mental health crisis and help avoid hospitalization.
Valley Creek Crisis Center
610-280-3270 or 610-918-2100
Toll free 1-877-918-2100
Consumer-run Warm Line 866-846-2722
The consumer-run Warm Line is for people looking for peer support or information about mental health services. The Warm Line is staffed by trained, paid mental health peer specialists. The service is toll-free and operates Monday-Friday from 2-8 pm, Sat-Sunday from noon - 6 pm.
Susanne Flood is a LMFT of Real Connection Therapy, PLLC