This time of year, it’s not uncommon for people to feel sluggish, unmotivated and even feeling dissatisfied with life. Some may rightfully shrug it off as a case of winter blues, but for others, those feelings may indicate they are suffering from depression.
Differentiating between the blues and depression can be tricky. While symptoms of depression are more dynamic and varied than those of the blues, they express themselves similarly — persistent sadness, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, increased irritability, decreased ability to concentrate, low energy and social withdrawal.
Generally speaking, however, the blues tend to be shorter in duration and are frequently associated with a particular event that brings someone down for a period of time. It’s a condition you should be able to “snap out of” in a period of weeks.
In the case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the blues may last longer — in our region, from about October or November until March or April.
Whatever the cause, you can take steps to feel better in the midst of the blues. Take an inventory of your life. Look at your lifestyle, your schedule and other stressors that may be contributing to your slump, and see what you can change. Then take steps that will help you feel more balanced. Make time for exercise if that’s lacking, and push yourself to connect with at least one or two intimate friends to get out of the house and prevent yourself from feeling isolated.
If you believe your situation is season-related, increase the light in your home and workplace by adding lamps and opening blinds. And take advantage of sunny days by taking walks and spending as much time outside as possible.
If you don’t begin feeling better within a few weeks of onset, or if the symptoms are simply too debilitating to function as you need to, seek help. Your family physician or mental health professional can be very helpful in diagnosing your situation and determining how best to get you feeling better.
Remember, depression is treatable, and counseling and medication together are very effective. Medication can address chemical contributors, and counseling can help you manage the depression and cope with possible underlying contributors. Many people eventually find they no longer need either one to live a healthy, happy life. But in the meantime, treatment can mean the difference between merely existing and truly living.
As published in the January 2004 Edition of the La Crosse Tribune.