Winter can be a wonderful time of year with holiday gatherings, bright lights and cheerful songs. However many people don’t feel cheery, especially after the holidays end. A shift in mood is common in the winter months. But what constitutes as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and what is winter blues? Both have some overlapping symptoms but are very different in terms of diagnosis and treatment.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is characterized by symptoms including, but not limited to: irritability, isolation, weight gain, decrease in energy, trouble concentrating or not doing things that normally make you happy. You will often find that doing your normal day-to-day activities (getting out of bed, going to work, eating etc.) are heavily impacted. If these symptoms sound similar to symptoms of depression, that’s because they are. SAD is not just a disorder on its own, it’s a form of depression. It should be treated like any other mental health issue and be diagnosed by a professional. SAD can be treated through medication, light therapy and an increase in Vitamin D, as well as lifestyle changes.

Winter Blues is characterized by symptoms such as fatigue, irritability or a sense of feeling stir-crazy because of the weather. The main difference between the winter blues and SAD is that, while you may feel more glum than normal, the winter blues does not heavily affect your day-to-day life. If you have the winter blues, you should still be able to perform your daily tasks with relative ease. If you are feeling this way, there are many ways to release endorphins to help with these irritable or grouchy feelings. 

Here are some lifestyle tips that we as busy working adults can keep in mind when winter rolls around and you start feeling down:

  • If you don’t have an exercise routine, start one! If you already have a routine, keep doing what you are doing or up the amount of times you exercise weekly. Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and feel more energized and uplifted instantly.

  • Listen to your favorite upbeat music. Music can have a huge effect on our mood. There are some songs you just can’t help but dance and sing to. This in turn will put a smile on your face and increase your energy.

  • Plan a social activity at least once a week. It’s easy to want to stay in all the time when it’s cold and snowy, but it’s important to stay connected with friends or family during these months. It can be something as simple as a quick dinner out or a game of bowling with some close friends.

  • Eat more mindfully. It’s easy during this time of year to overindulge in sweets and salty snacks galore. Although it may feel fun in the moment, it will end up causing more fatigue and irritability. The food choices we make directly impact our stress level. Eating snacks and meals that are high in fiber, protein and nutrients are key to keeping us energized and keeping our stress at bay. Think roasted vegetables, whole grains, nuts and lean meats.

As an employer, there are many ways you can help the mental and emotional health of your team:

  • Provide employees with easy access to benefits and support like Employee Assistance Programs. EAP’s support employees with personal or work-related issues that may impact emotional and mental well being and performance.

  • Normalize the conversation around mental health.

  • Allow time during the workday for employees to exercise. This can be by providing flex time for employees to go to the gym or bringing in a worksite fitness class weekly, monthly or daily.

  • Add healthy vending options or healthy break room snacks to keep employees feeling energized and motivated.

Want help incorporating this into your workplace culture? Contact Wellness Collective today at to set up a free wellness strategy session to see how we can collaborate.

Resources: Well + Good #1 | NIMH | Well + Good #2

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Katy Tombaugh