Glamour – Is Feeling Down in the Winter All In Your Head?
It isn’t hard to feel down this time of the year, with the shorter, gloomier days, and colder weather. But new research suggests that the winter blues may not be as tied to the seasons as we had previously thought. Turns out there is a difference between the blues and depression, and feeling down in the winter may just be normal. The important thing to understand is that depression is depression, and not necessarily a byproduct of the seasons.
I was asked by Glamour to help make sense of these findings, and was very pleased to offer a few thoughts. To read the full post, click here.
Licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark, Psy.D., an adjunct professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Washington DC campus, isn’t shocked by the findings. “The diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder has been phasing out of our diagnostic nomenclature for some time now,” she says. The most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM5) no longer lists SAD as a stand-alone mood disorder, she points out. Instead, it now uses it as modifier for major depressive disorder. “The emphasis is now on depression, not the seasons, and this is important,” she says.
LoBello and Clark don’t discount the fact that you may feel less perky during the winter—it just may not be a sign of depression. “Being unhappy about weather is not the same as being depressed, which is a common, but serious psychiatric illness,” says LoBello.
Clark says feeling down in the colder weather, when days are shorter, we have less sunlight, and are outside less, is completely normal. “Sunlight exposure and time outside has been shown to boost happiness and a sense of well-being, making it reasonable to assume that less sunlight and gloomier weather in the winter months can dull happiness, and even depress mood,” she says. “The important thing to understand here is that there is a big difference between being in a down mood—even a depressed mood—and meeting criteria for major depressive disorder.”
Sound like you? It’s time to see a doctor. “Recognizing depression is the first step to getting help,” says Clark. “It is an illness, and there are excellent treatments that work.”
If you believe you suffer from SAD and are experiencing depressive symptoms, it may be helpful to understand what other stressors besides decreased sunlight tick up in the winter that might be making your depressive symptoms worse. Recognizing patterns to your depression can give you more control over predicting symptoms and taking steps that can help. Just because research isn’t supporting a stand alone diagnosis of SAD doesn’t mean you don’t feel worse in the winter, and that your experience isn’t real. Embrace your truth, no matter what. The most important thing is to take your depression seriously and do what you need to do to help yourself. A sense of control and hope can go a long way in combatting depression.