April may be the cruelest month, but January seems to take the cake for being the most depressing. Post-holiday letdown turns into failed New Year's resolutions, which are exacerbated by short days, long nights, bad weather, and holiday credit card bills. This kind of low-level winter depression seems to be a seasonal fact of life. "It's very common for people to get down during long winter months," says Dawn LaFrance, PsyD, associate director of the Counseling Center at Colgate University in upstate New York. "And while January seems bad, February can be bad, too. People keep waiting for spring, and winter just keeps going."
There's a difference between a winter funk and the more severe condition, seasonal affective disorder, says LaFrance, the latter of which is characterized by clinical depression, anxiety, and changes in weight. "The difference is usually seen in the severity and intensity of symptoms," she says. "It's OK to cry, but are you crying for three days straight?" She adds that winter blues usually last a couple of days, at the end of which you can find something to be happy about or some pleasure in your life.
Gary Malone, MD, medical director and chief of psychiatry at Baylor All Saints Medical Center at Fort Worth, adds that serious symptoms, such as rapid changes in weight and sleeping more than nine hours a day or less than five, are signs of a more serious disorder. "You do need medication when you become so depressed that you can't function on a daily basis," he says. For anyone dealing with a simple bout of winter funk, the best coping mechanisms are simple steps like eating right, exercising, and not focusing too much on the weather outside.
This article was originally published by our partners at Rodale Wellness.