When It’s More Than the Winter Blues

worried young man looks out of a window

The gifts have been opened, the holiday meals eaten, the visitors gone home, and the decorations put away for another year. As the fun and festivities become memories, this is the time of year many people feel a little let down or sad.

Treating yourself to a movie, spending time with friends, doing volunteer work, or participating in physical activities you enjoy can help you cheer up and regain your emotional balance.

But for some people, it isn’t that easy. Sadness that doesn’t go away or keeps you from enjoying things you usually like could be a sign of clinical depression. One type of clinical depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is more common around this time of year when the days are shorter and the nights are longer. Treatment for SAD usually involves light therapy, and can also include talk therapy or prescription medication.

Other kinds of clinical depression may be caused by a tragic event, a period of stress, an illness, changes in the brain that affect mood, or for reasons that nobody understands. Getting help is important, because treatment, including medicines, counseling, or a combination of both, can reduce the suffering that comes along with depression and improve quality of life.

What to Look for

  • Ongoing sad or “empty” mood for most of the day
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities most of the time
  • Major weight loss (when not dieting) or weight gain
  • Being slowed down or restless and agitated almost every day, enough for others to notice
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue) or loss of energy
  • Trouble sleeping with early waking, sleeping too much, or not being able to sleep
  • Trouble focusing thoughts, remembering, or making decisions
  • Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide (not just fear of death), suicide plans or attempts

If you suspect you may be depressed, make an appointment to see a doctor. If you notice symptoms in a friend or family member, talk with them about getting help.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.


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