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Winter Doldrums

Have you ever wondered what "doldrums" are? defines them as:

  1. A region of the ocean near the equator, characterized by calms, light winds, or squalls; weather conditions characteristic of these regions of the ocean, or  
  2. A period of stagnation or slump; a period of depression or unhappy listlessness.

When it comes to the term, "winter doldrums," which definition applies? If you chose the second one, you are correct.  Around this time of year many of us start to feel sluggish. As the days get shorter and colder, we spend more time indoors and are exposed to less natural sunlight. This can lead to decreased energy and a depressed mood.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter, alternating with periods of normal or high mood the rest of the year.  When you have depression, it can interfere with daily life and make it difficult to work, sleep, study, eat and enjoy once pleasurable activities.
According to the NIMH, SAD may be effectively treated with light therapy. But nearly half of people with SAD do not respond to light therapy alone. Antidepressant medicines and talk therapy can reduce the symptoms, either alone or combined with light therapy.
Not everyone with SAD has the same symptoms. They include:

  • Sad, anxious or empty feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Changes in weight
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If you think you may have SAD, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recommends consulting a qualified mental health professional. To help you decide whether a clinical consultation is necessary, you can use the feedback on the Personalized Inventory for Depression and SAD at
NIMH offers the following advice if you think you have depression:

  • Don't wait too long to get evaluated or treated. See a professional as soon as possible.
  • Try to be active and exercise.
  • Set realistic goals.
  • Break up large tasks into small ones, set priorities and do what you can as you can.
  • Spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative. Don't isolate yourself; let others help you.
  • Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately. Don't expect to suddenly "snap out of" your depression.
  • Postpone important decisions, such as getting married or divorced or changing jobs until you feel better. Discuss decisions with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.
  • Remember that positive thinking will replace negative thoughts as your depression responds to treatment.
  • Continue to educate yourself about depression.

Read about how a teacher battled depression and claimed her SSDI benefits.