Dark, cold and dreary days can leave many people feeling blah on occasion. You may feel down because of the lousy weather, being cooped up indoors or the fact that nighttime seems to arrive so early. But if you can’t shake that occasional down feeling, you may have a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Seasonal affective disorder is often referred to as the winter blues because the condition most commonly affects people during the winter months. Most people with SAD see an increase in symptoms beginning in the fall and winter, as days get shorter, with symptoms improving as the sun stays out longer during spring or early summer. There are some people who have seasonal affective disorder during summer, although it’s not nearly as common.

What are signs of the winter blues?

If you have a combination of any of these symptoms during the fall and winter that improve once spring arrives, you may have seasonal affective disorder:

  • Sadness, moodiness or depression
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Weight gain
  • Increased appetite
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Increased need for sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of interest
  • Social withdrawal

How many people get the winter blues?

If you have the winter blues, you are not alone. In fact, an estimated 14% of Americans suffer from occasional winter blues and at least half of them have seasonal affective disorder, with more women than men being affected.

There are varying degrees of the condition and not everyone experiences the same symptoms or the same severity of symptoms. But the one thing that is common among all people affected is that symptoms tend to come and go with the changing seasons. The exact cause of seasonal affective disorder is unknown but it is believed that lower amounts of sunlight are to blame.

Are there treatments for the winter blues?

There are a variety of treatment options that may help you feel better. These include:

  • Light therapy
  • Dawn simulators
  • Spending time outdoors during daylight hours
  • Talk therapy
  • Exercise
  • Antidepressants

You may have to try different therapies or a combination of therapies to find what works for you.

What should you do if you have signs of the winter blues?

Don’t brush off the winter blues as something you can’t do anything about. If you find yourself experiencing the signs above around the same time each year, talk to a health care professional to determine whether you have seasonal affective disorder and to discuss therapies that can help you feel better.