Beating the Winter Blues

Marilou G. Tablang-Jimenez, MD

The winter months can be tranquil and cozy, complete with peaceful snowfall and warm sweaters. But cold temperatures and short daylight hours can also be draining. When should you talk to your doctor about the “winter blues”?

“It’s natural to feel some fluctuation in your mood throughout the year,” says Marilou G. Tablang-Jimenez, MD, medical director of the Addiction and Mental Health Center (AMHC) at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center. “But if you are not feeling like yourself for more than two weeks, talk to your doctor. There’s so many ways that we can help!”

Sometimes, the “winter blues” are caused by a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. SAD typically begins in the late fall and persists until spring. Symptoms include difficulty concentrating, tiredness or excess energy, loss of interest in people and activities you once enjoyed, and feeling hopeless, irritable or down nearly every day. People with SAD often experience increased appetite, craving for carbohydrates, and weight gain.

SAD is connected to seasonal changes in sunlight. Short winter days can disrupt your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythms), levels of mood-controlling chemicals such as serotonin in the brain, and sleep hormones such as melatonin. SAD is more common in higher latitudes, where winter days are shortest.

While SAD is most often diagnosed in women in their twenties, this disorder can affect people of all genders and ages, including children. Patients struggling with SAD may benefit from exercise, meditative techniques like yoga, anti-depressant medication, vitamin D supplements, talk therapy, or light therapy. Light therapy involves using a special lampthat mimics sunlight. It’s an easy way to get a boost of sunshine, which can trigger changes in the brain and help you to feel happier.

While symptoms of SAD may disappear with the spring, it is still a condition that is worth treating. Depression can reduce quality of life, cause you to withdraw from social activities, impact work performance, and contribute to weight loss or gain.

“Even if you don’t meet the diagnostic criteria for SAD, you may still benefit from using a light box, getting more exercise, or talking about stress with an understanding therapist,” says Dr. Tablang-Jimenez. “Simple interventions can make a world of difference.”

Speak with your primary care physician or call the AMHC at MedStar Montgomery to make an appointment. AMHC is a word-class treatment resource for those struggling with mental health issues large and small. There is no need to let the winter get you down!

At MedStar Montgomery, our expert team can work with you to boost your mood and help you enjoy a cozy, cheerful winter.