Can You Get the Winter Blues in Florida?

January 11, 2024

female friends walking on beach

Florida may be known as the sunshine state. But Florida winters are rainy, and Floridians aren’t immune from getting the winter blues.

Learn the difference between the winter blues and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), what to look out for and how to deal with it so you can enjoy the wonders of the winter season ahead.

Winter Blues vs. Seasonal Affective Disorder

Winter Blues

The term winter blues is not a medical diagnosis. It’s a general term to describe a feeling of sadness triggered by family problems, financial stress or reminders of absent loved ones during the holiday season. Winter blues are temporary and common.

If you’re feeling sad or low during the dark days of winter, and especially around the holidays, know that you’re not alone. Most of us experience the winter blues at some time or another. Luckily, it’s a temporary feeling that resolves in a short matter of time.

SAD

On the other hand, SAD is a clinical diagnosis. Also called major depressive disorder (MDD) with seasonal pattern, SAD is a form of depression triggered by a change in seasons. A key feature of SAD is that it follows an annual pattern, starting and ending at the same time each year — most often during the late fall and winter.

While anyone can experience the winter blues, SAD is more common in women than in men. It can sometimes run in families. SAD also occurs more often in people who have other mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Researchers have linked SAD to biochemical changes in the brain that happen during the winter when the days are shorter and darker. Shorter days mean less sunlight. Less sunlight means your body produces less melatonin. Less melatonin causes sleep problems, which disrupts your energy levels, mood, weight and overall circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock). Darker days also reduce serotonin production, the feel-good chemical.

Because of this link to shorter, darker days, most people think SAD only happens to those living in the northern part of the United States, where it gets significantly colder and darker during the winter. However, according to a National Institutes of Health report, approximately 1 percent of people living in Florida also experience seasonal affective disorder — most likely due to the increase in rainy, cloudy days.

Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder

No two people are exactly alike, so symptoms may vary. But some signs of SAD are common for most people. These include:

  • Low or depressed mood, often leading to isolation.
  • Low energy or fatigue.
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed and social isolation.
  • Changes in sleep patterns, particularly oversleeping.
  • Changes in eating habits, specifically overeating, often leading to weight gain.

To oversimplify it, from the outside, SAD looks like hibernation. The defining factor, however, is that these changes in mood and behavior interfere with daily functioning over a long period.

Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Symptoms of SAD will often resolve themselves once the seasons change. But if the effects negatively impact your personal and professional relationships and your mental and physical health, you can take several steps to address the symptoms.

  • Light therapy: This treatment involves sitting in front of a light box that emits bright (but UV-filtered) light first thing in the morning every day for approximately 20-30 minutes. Light therapy has been a proven, highly effective treatment and the gold standard of treatment for most people.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Also known as talk therapy, is another effective treatment option. Providers use CBT to address all forms of depression, including SAD.
  • Medication: Doctors may prescribe medications like antidepressants and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to increase your serotonin levels when other treatments are insufficient.
  • Lifestyle: Going outside for a walk or taking a vitamin D supplement as part of a healthy diet can also help reduce the effects of seasonal affective disorder. Also, the benefits of volunteering in your community or spending time with family and friends cannot be underestimated. Research shows that socializing and helping others lower rates of depression.

If you’re experiencing signs of seasonal affective disorder, make an appointment to see a licensed specialist or counselor. Memorial Behavioral Health offers a wide range of mental health services, including telehealth visits and a partial hospitalization program. Get the help you need to live a healthier, happier life now.