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Sad person looking out window during the winter

Is it the Winter Blues? Or Something More?

Holiday decorations are back in storage. Your house has returned to some semblance of its former self. Loved ones have left, and you feel as though you finally are getting back to a routine.

But, it’s still winter.

You drive to work, and it’s dark. You leave work, and it’s dark. Warmer weather is still out of reach, and it’s left you feeling a bit down.

Things like bad days, unexpected bills or disagreements with friends may bother us a bit more during this time of year. In fact, there’s a whole genre of music around this very feeling, and it’s called the “blues.”

Is it simply the blues? Or, could it be something more, such as depression? How can you tell the difference between the two?

“It’s important to be aware of how long the feeling of sadness lasts,” says Megan Schabbing, MD, a psychiatrist for OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital. “It’s also important to recognize whether your low mood affects your ability to function at work or home,” she explains.

If feeling blue or down are temporary and not a constant presence, then you’re likely experiencing what people refer to as the “winter or holiday blues.”

To help combat the feeling, Dr. Schabbing suggests exercising daily, fighting the urge to withdraw socially and engaging in activities you usually enjoy — like reading, walking outdoors or going to the movies.

However, if you are persistently feeling down, experiencing a loss of energy and/or are having difficulty with sleeping or eating, it may be something beyond the winter blues, as these are signs of depression.

“Depression can last for weeks, months or even longer,” says Dr. Schabbing.

“While some may confuse the winter blues with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), SAD is actually a subtype of depression where depressive symptoms become more apparent during winter months.”

And, unlike the winter blues, SAD can be treated with light therapy, in addition to antidepressant medication and psychotherapy, which are used to treat other types of depression, explains Dr. Schabbing.

“If your mood impairs your ability to function, consider asking for help,” says Dr. Schabbing. “If you don’t have a psychiatrist, the first step is making an appointment with your primary care physician.”

Whether it’s the winter blues or SAD, it’s important to recognize what kind of help or activities you may need to get back to feeling like yourself again.

After all, in the words of Little Orphan Annie, “The sun will come out, tomorrow.”