January can be a vulnerable time, mainly since the end of the holiday season often brings unhappiness. This sensation can act as a signal for winter depression, also known as Winter Blues. Winter depression is a recognized seasonal affective disorder, with specific symptoms and diagnoses identified since the 1990s.

So, what exactly is Winter Blues, and what the symptoms of winter depression are?

Winter Blues: What is it?

Winter Blues, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), arises during the period with fewer hours of daylight than at any other time of the year. Specific symptoms characterize the disorder. Additionally, the acronym SAD references the English word “sad.”

Winter depression involves a whole range of consequences, starting with:

  • A lowering of mood
  • A kind of widespread feeling of sadness

Since the 1990s, these symptoms have been linked to the influence of light on the human circadian system. This is due to a dysregulation of melatonin production and other neurotrophic factors.

Subsequent studies have shown that variations in the amount of daylight hours throughout the year, especially during seasonal changes, greatly influence the regulation of neuroendocrine functions, particularly in sensitive individuals. 

Changes in the amount of daylight hours can affect:

  • Mood
  • Energy
  • Sleep
  • Appetite
  • Metabolic function
  • Thermoregulation
  • Hormonal response to biological stimuli

In America, the National Institute of Mental Health has identified women as being at greater risk than men, young adults, and those who have suffered or are suffering from depression or other mood disorders.

Winter depression: the symptoms

Those who suffer from winter depression may experience several symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue that results in hypersomnia (i.e., the need to sleep longer than usual) 
  • Sadness
  • Moodiness
  • Desire to eat carbohydrates

These symptoms often affect social and work life, reducing performance and productivity. Some people experience a desire to ‘hibernate,’ avoiding social occasions and physical activity, which would positively impact the Winter Blues. When winter depression sets in, walking or playing sports can be challenging.

Numerous studies and clinical trials have shown that the following actions have a positive impact on mood and psychophysical energy:

  • Going out in the sunlight
  • Taking a walk (not necessarily every day)
  • Undergoing actual light therapy sessions – i.e., light therapy with white light lamps used according to the specialist’s instructions 

The actions benefit individuals by:

  • Reestablishing the circadian rhythm
  • Improving their sleep 
  • Reconfigure the hormonal functions altered by the reduction of winter light hours.