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Winter blues? How to boost your mood

Thursday, February 01, 2024 2:36 PM

By Endeavor Health

Gray skies, cold air, and the end of holiday celebrations can leave you in need of a serious mood boost.

If you’re feeling the winter blahs, you’re not alone.

For some, that blah feeling can go beyond a mild downer.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a condition linked to a chemical imbalance that causes depression symptoms in about 5% of adults in the U.S.

Man in puffer coat

SAD is a response to the shorter days of winter. The disorder can last from September to April with the peak occurring in December, January and February.

People with SAD may have an imbalance of melatonin and serotonin — two chemicals that regulate a person's sleep cycle, energy level and mood.

“We produce more melatonin when it's dark, which causes a person to feel sleepy and lethargic. We make more serotonin when we're exposed to sunlight. So during the winter months, we associate lower levels of serotonin with depression,” said Ashley Muhr, DO, a family medicine physician with Endeavor Health.

Some of the most common signs of SAD include:

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Difficulty concentrating

People with SAD usually feel like themselves again by mid-spring or early summer. Until then, there are things people with SAD — or a simple case of the winter blues — can do to feel better. Talk to your doctor about these common strategies:

  • Let the light in. Opening the blinds and letting sunshine in the windows will brighten your mood. If there isn’t enough light, invest in a light therapy box and spend time in front of it daily.
  • Eat right. Eating healthy food will help you avoid physical discomfort. It’ll also avert blood sugar crashes caused by too many refined carbs that can lead to lethargy and irritability. 
  • Exercise. Nothing brightens your outlook like a great workout.
  • Seek counseling. Talking about your feelings with a therapist can help you understand the problem and find a solution.
  • Keep your usual routine. People who experience SAD should continue their usual routine — including going outside and spending time with friends — even if they don’t feel up to it.

SAD is more than just the winter blues or a bad mood you experience because it's cold outside. If you feel SAD symptoms for three consecutive winter seasons, consult your doctor or a mental health professional.

Need a doctor? Find the right one for you at Endeavor Health.

If you or a loved one is suffering from depression or SAD, the behavioral health therapists at Endeavor Health can help. Learn more about our behavioral health services at Linden Oaks Hospital and Northwest Community Hospital.

NorthShore University HealthSystem, Swedish Hospital, Northwest Community Healthcare and Edward-Elmhurst Health are now united under one name, Endeavor Health. We’re setting a new standard for healthcare that’s focused on you, because your best health is our endeavor. Learn more.