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Seasonal Affective Disorder & Holiday Blues

Updated: Jan 14

-Teresa Jacobson, DBH, LPCC-S, NCC

December 20, 2022

If your holiday cheer is down this year, or winter has brought the blues; you are not alone. Many people struggle with depression, grief, and loneliness throughout the holiday and winter season. Grief, isolation, and sadness can be especially hard during the holiday season, despite hearing "it's the most wonderful time of year". For some, it's the hardest.

Keeping your spirits up despite the hustle and bustle and non-Hallmark moments in your life can be difficult. It's important to differentiate between the symptoms of the "holiday blues" as compared to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a subset of depression related to the shortening of daylight hours which can greatly impact life for four-five months.

The holiday blues or "the so-called winter blues are often linked to something specific, such as stressful holidays or reminders of absent loved ones" (Wein, 2022). Holidays can be extremely challenging for people who may feel especially alone and experience vast sadness due to loss. Grief is unique for each person. Some tend to suppress emotions, which can delay the grieving process.

Seasonal affective disorder is "a well-defined clinical diagnosis that’s related to the shortening of daylight hours" (Wein, 2022), which interferes with everyday functioning for a significant amount of time. "A key feature of SAD is that it follows a regular pattern. It appears each year as the seasons change, and it goes away several months later, usually during spring and summer."

Both the holiday blues and SAD can also impact how people interact with family and friends. Over time, SAD can lead to a "gloomy outlook and make people feel hopeless, worthless, and irritable" (Wein, 2022). "They may lose interest in activities they used to enjoy, such as spending time with friends." Although SAD is time-limited, it occurs each year, and both can cause significant impairment and distress.

Some Healthy coping strategies include

Holiday Blues

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Treat yourself with self-compassion, non-judgmentally, without comparison to others. Limiting social media can be helpful.

​Light therapy, 30 minutes a day is shown to be effective within 2 weeks of treatment.

​Consider the three C's: Choose what's best for you, including healthy boundaries, Connect with others, if even virtually or over the phone, and Communicate by sharing what you need.

​Reframe negative thinking patterns to be healthy and helpful. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is very effective with SAD.

Acknowledge and validate the presence of your emotionss as difficult as it is; journaling or talking about what you are feeling can help.

Behavioral changes, finding time for friends, and avoiding alcohol and other mind altering substances.

​Take care of your physical health, with physical activity, healthy nutrition, and mindfulness.

​Take care of your physical health, with physical activity, healthy nutrition, and mindfulness.

​Consider engaging in consistent routine and gratitude practices by writing down 1-3 things a day you are grateful for. Above all, treat yourself gently.

Consider visiting sunnier, warmer climates when you can. It can be helpful to talk with a medical provider for medication to decrease distress and impairment.

With stress levels at an all-time high in the world, bouts of the blues, loss, and sadness can be that much worse. If you are feeling down this winter and the feelings last more than a few weeks, you may want to consider talking with a professional.

You can ease your anguish by taking time to focus on yourself and your healing. It is difficult, but very healthy to acknowledge what you are feeling, allow yourself to experience the pain, and to let it flow through you.

It takes courage to push through anguish. Just know you don't have to do it alone.


Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor who is counseling Ohio and Kentucky adults of all ages and life experiences via secure Telehealth/Video visits. A strength-based, person-centered multi-cultural counselor, with an existential philosophy, Teresa can be reached by emailing, calling (513) 206-3026, or visiting



Kurlansik, S.L., and Ibay, A.D. (2012). Seasonal affective disorder. American Family Physician. 86(11) 1037-


Macatee, J. B. (2021, December 15). Professor gives advice for avoiding holiday blues, maintaining

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Meesters, Y., and Gordijn, M.C.M. (2016). Seasonal affective disorder, winter type: current insights and

treatment options. Psychology Research and Behavior Management 9, 317-327.

Kettering Health (2021, November 22). Grief during the holidays: Use the 3 Cs to help you heal.

Wein, H. (2022). Beat the winter blues. NIH News in Health. Retrieved from


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