“Winter blues” is a term that can refer to the fall/winter form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), worsening symptoms of clinical depression, or a mild form of depression that tends to occur in winter.
Symptoms and treatments are similar, so it doesn’t matter which you have. If your symptoms last for more than 2 weeks, consult your doctor.
Take this short 10-question quiz to determine if the winter blues are affecting you:
1. How is the weather outside in midwinter?
- A. Moderate all year round
- B. Cold and snowy and gloomy
- C. Colder than usual, but it rarely snows here
- D. A bit rainy
2. Name your mood which predominates in midwinter:
- A. Anticipation for spring
- B. Broke or let-down from the holidays
- C. I love winter!
- D. Gloomy or apathetic
3. Do you live or work in a place that receives little natural light?
- A. Yes. I rarely go out.
- B. Yes, but I get outside regularly.
- C. No, but I rarely go outdoors.
- D. No, and I love going outdoors.
4. Do you eat differently in midwinter?
- A. I crave comfort foods.
- B. I always start on my post-holiday diet then.
- C. I eat more canned and frozen food because less fresh is available.
- D. I don’t really feel like eating.
5. Have your sleep patterns changed?
- A. No
- B. I sleep less than usual.
- C. I sleep more than usual, and I don’t know why.
- D. I never seem to get enough sleep
6. Are your friends telling you to get out more?
- A. Friends? What friends?
- B. Yes
- C. No. I’m the one urging them to come out and party.
- D. I can’t get out more because I can’t drive or I don’t have transportation.
7. What gender are you?
- A. Male
- B. Female
- C. I was born female but take hormones
- D. It’s complicated
8. Have any of your close relatives been diagnosed with depression?
- A. Yes, my parent(s), child(ren) or sibling(s) have been diagnosed with depression.
- B. They haven’t been diagnosed, but they should have been.
- C. Not that I know of
- D. No, but at least one has been diagnosed with anxiety or bipolar disorder or ADHD.
9. Do you cry at silly things, such as advertisements or commercials?
- A. Yes
- B. No
- C. No, but I cry when I’m angry
- D. No, but I cry when I’m frustrated
10. Do you suffer from a chronic illness, such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, kidney disease, HIV/AIDS, lupus, or multiple sclerosis?
- A. Yes
- B. No
- C. Yes, but it’s under control.
- D. No, but I do suffer from chronic pain.
Answers are below:
1. If you answered b, give yourself 4 points. SAD, winter depression, and the winter blues are all related to the body not getting sufficient sunlight.If you answered b, give yourself 2 points. If you answered d, give yourself 4 points. Symptoms of depression include a sad or apathetic mood. Your
2. If you answered b, give yourself 2 points. If you answered d, give yourself 4 points. Symptoms of depression include a sad or apathetic mood. Your mood is partly influenced by sunlight, which, in turn, influences melatonin, serotonin, and vitamin D. Melatonin, a sleep hormone, decreases and serotonin increases when it is light. Serotonin is a hormone associated with wakefulness and elevated mood. Light stimulates the production of vitamin D, which helps the body maintain levels of serotonin during the winter.
3. If you answered a, give yourself 4 points. If you answered b or c, give yourself 2 points. See above how light affects mood.
4. If you answered a or d, give yourself 4 points. One symptom of the winter blues is a craving for comfort foods and carbohydrates, frequently brought on by boredom. On the other hand, one symptom of depression is lack of appetite.
5. If you answered c, give yourself 4 points. If you answered d, give yourself 2 points. One of the symptoms of depression is a craving for sleep or sleepiness, which may be caused by too much melatonin caused, in turn, by lack of exposure to light.
6. If you answered b, give yourself 4 points. If you answered a or d, give yourself 2 points. One of the standard symptoms of depression is lack of interest in being around others.
7. If you answered b, give yourself 2 points. If you answered c or d, give yourself a point. Women are more likely to suffer from all forms of depression. Whether that is caused by societal demands or physiology, scientists are unsure.
8. If you answered a or b, give yourself 4 points. If you answered d, give yourself 2 points. Depression runs in families.
9. If you answered a, give yourself 4 points. Crying for no rational reason is, of course, a symptom of depression.
10. If you answered a or d, give yourself 4 points. If you answered c, give yourself 2 points. Certain chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, kidney disease, HIV/AIDS, lupus, and multiple sclerosis, correlate with depression. Any painful chronic illness may cause depression.
Results of the quiz:
21-34 points: You probably have some form of depression. If your symptoms persist more than 2 weeks, it’s more than a case of the winter blues. See your doctor if possible. Some methods to alleviate depression are listed below.
11-20 points: You may be a bit depressed because your situation may be depressing you. Try to discover ways to change your environment and/or your financial situation to increase your quality of life. Exercise helps combat depression and gives you more self-confidence.
10 points or less: You’re probably fine. If you truly felt depressed, you wouldn’t need this quiz to confirm or deny it.
What do you do if the quiz indicates you’re depressed?
If this test indicates you may suffer from depression, take heed. However, even if this test doesn’t list you as being at risk for depression, but you believe you are, you need to learn to trust yourself and seek help.
Traditional treatment for the winter blues includes light therapy, antidepressant medication, talk therapy, and supplements. As is usual with anything related to the brain, scientists are unsure which therapy works best; the efficacy of therapy depends on the individual.
"People need to mix and match and figure out what works for them," says Norman Rosenthal, Georgetown University professor of psychiatry.
Two of those treatments may be performed at home. If they alleviate your depression, that’s great. If not, make sure you contact your doctor.
Light Therapy Treatment for Depression
On sunny days during the winter, get outside and walk, exposing your bare skin to the sun. Unless your doctor specifically indicates otherwise, do not wear sunglasses. Exposing your eyes to the full spectrum of light helps regulate melatonin.
Try to get a minimum of 20 minutes of sun exposure (30 minutes if you are dark-skinned), which will last approximately 2 weeks. Of course, it’s best to get a little bit of sun exposure each day, but if you live in a climate away from the equator, weather may prevent doing so.
Any form of exercise, including walking, eases the symptoms of depression, so walking in the sunlight truly gives you the most benefit.
An alternative is to purchase full-spectrum light bulbs. A pack of 4 costs approximately $20 on Amazon. You can also purchase fluorescent grow lights used for plants, which will work equally well.
Light boxes for SAD are available from $40 on up online.
Tanning salons also offer the type of light that affects vitamin D production and melatonin.
Use these therapies earlier in the day to avoid sleep disruption. If you are using full-spectrum lighting indoors, you should use it at least 30 minutes a day. Some types of medication affect sensitivity to light. Ask your physician which of these treatments is best for you.
Nutrition and Supplements for Depression
Some doctors prescribe melatonin to help with sleep disturbances that may affect mood. However, vitamin D not only regulates melatonin, it regulates serotonin. The very best way to get vitamin D is to expose your skin to the sun.
Eating vitamin D-rich foods is the next best way to increase your level of vitamin D. Foods rich in vitamin D include fatty fish, such as sardines, mackerel and tuna; beef liver; cheese; egg yolks; and vitamin D-fortified cereals and juices.
The final way to increase levels of vitamin D is to take supplements. Make sure you take supplements of D3, not D2, because D2 must be metabolized in order to be used. Sorry, vegetarians, but D3 comes solely from animal sources.
Supplements that increase levels of serotonin include 5-HTP, L-Tryptophan, SAM-e, and Saint Johns Wort.
Supplements that may alleviate depression include Omega-3 fish oil, vitamin B, saffron, and kava kava.
Before taking any supplement, consult your doctor to ensure they don’t interact with your current medication or make any current conditions worse. And always be sure to list your supplements when your doctor or a hospital asks what medications you are taking.
Depression Is Dangerous for Your Health
Untreated depression may lead to alcohol or drug abuse and, eventually, suicide. In men, it is likely to lead to violence, physical abuse, and unsafe behavior.
If you or a friend is contemplating suicide, don’t hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.