three men dressed in neutral-toned puffer jackets and coordinating hats/scarves -- to illustrate a story about seasonal depression

Men Can Get Ahead of the Winter Blues. Here’s How

12.08.2023 — Jesse Hernandez, LPC

In case you didn’t know, right now Earth is moving farther and farther from the sun, making our days shorter and our nights longer. For many people, this can also mean a shift in mood and behaviors. And before you think I’m about to tell you that Mars is in retrograde, this is a real condition! It’s called SAD, or seasonal affective disorder—and yes, men can struggle with it too.

Seasonal affective disorder is a condition that looks and feels like depression, but is usually brought on by the changing of the seasons. Most commonly, however, SAD happens in the winter. Whereas summer features long days full of sunlight, being outside, and social gatherings, winter can be characterized by long cold nights, being indoors, and less time available to spend with friends. The latter season can lend itself to some of depression’s most popular symptoms such as low motivation, isolation, and increase in sleep.

Much like when you were a kid and street lamps in your neighborhood signaled it was time to go inside, the sun serves as a similar signal to the body. These signals are called zeitgebers, or time cues. Our brains naturally respond to environmental cues like the light/dark cycle of the planet to let our bodies know it’s time to go to sleep. In fact, melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel sleepy, is triggered by the brain in response to darkness. It only makes sense that if the sun goes down sooner, you’ll find yourself gradually spending more time inside, less time moving, and more time sleeping.

So, if this sounds like you or you’re trying to get ahead of the winter blues, here’s a few things you can do to help.

Manage expectations

There’s only so much you can control during these times, and the planet’s position in the solar system is not one of them. This season will be about controlling what you can control and accepting the rest for what it is, not for what you want it to be. Give yourself a day or two to grieve the loss of your routine as you knew it, and then take full accountability for how you respond to the changes around you. What you’re able to do with shorter days is going to be different, but completely abandoning your routine is only a surefire way of developing SAD or other mood disorders. Create a new routine and acknowledge and accept that it may not look exactly like the one you had during the summer or fall. And that’s OK!

Seek connection

As hard as it is for you to talk to people about your feelings, seasonal depression doesn’t go away if you ignore it and hide from people. Isolation only guarantees the issue remains or even worsens. The body releases what’s called “bonding hormones” when you spend time with people you care about, and these hormones have a positive impact on your mood and well-being. Be intentional about spending time with the people you love and try to plan something that requires socialization at some point during your week. You may be hanging out with friends while it’s dark out now, but the important thing is to maintain a human connection.

Seasonal depression doesn’t go away if you ignore it and hide from people.

Stay active

The link between a lack of physical activity and increased rates of depression is significant, but you don’t have to run a 5K or spend hours at the gym. Get creative with how you move your body! Play an indoor sport, dance with your partner, or wrestle with the kids! With as little as 30 minutes of physical activity a day you can not only feel better, but also keep SAD at bay.

Step into the light

Sunlight exposure has been thought to help with the release of serotonin, a mood boosting hormone. With fewer hours of sunlight, it will be important for you to find ways to take advantage of the sunlight while you can. Taking your lunch break outside or opening up the blinds if you work in an office setting might be a good place to start.

Talk to a therapist 

When it all feels like it’s too much to handle, there’s always professional help. Talk to a counselor who specializes in depression and mood disorders to help you learn to cope with your mental health in a healthier more effective way.

To close, SAD, or seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that is a result of the changing of the seasons. Although this type of condition can be hard to notice, there are signs and symptoms you can keep an eye out for as well as steps you can take to reduce your chances of developing SAD.

Feature photo: Cottonbro on Pexels

Jesse Hernandez, LPC