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Winter blues vs seasonal affective disorder: What’s the difference?

Welcome to wet shoes, grey skies, and cold noses. It’s winter here in Canada and our winters can be tough. If you’re feeling like your mood drops with the temperature, you’re not the only one.

While Jack Frost brings some people cheerful thoughts of hot cocoa and winter sports, he tends to sprinkle the winter blues on some of us this time of year.

So, what are the winter blues?

The winter blues are a wave of low emotions that come with these cold, dark days.

If you’re experiencing the winter blues, you might feel the need to sleep a bit longer, indulge more often in comfort food, and spend more time with Netflix than with your friends and family.

You may have heard people referring to this as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but the winter blues and SAD are two different things.

The difference between the winter blues and seasonal affective disorder:

About 15% of people in Canada experience the winter blues, while only about 2-3% of people in Canada experience SAD.[1]

SAD is a widely researched condition of regularly occurring depression in the winter season[2] that can impair one’s daily life. Treatment can include light therapy, counselling, medication, or a combination of the three. A professional can help determine if you are experiencing SAD.

Here are some ways you can improve or maintain your mood this winter:

  1. Let the light in

Get outside during the day if you can, keep your curtains open, and when indoors, spend as much time as you can near the windows. Even if it’s cloudy, getting some daylight can help boost your mood.

  1. Get physical

Even though hitting the gym might be the last thing you feel like doing, physical activity is always a great tool to help you manage your mental health. Start small and try a lunchtime walk around the block.

  1. Try to keep a normal sleep schedule

It might feel like your bed is the only one who understands this funk you’re in but over-sleeping can actually worsen the symptoms of the winter blues.

  1. Give yourself a pat on the back – you’re doing great.

Battling low moods is no easy feat, and it’s important to be kind to yourself. You’re stronger than you think!
Remember to have regular check-ins with yourself, and to spend that extra time on self-care if you need to.

NOTE: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used in place of professional advice.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or need immediate help, please call 1-833-456-4566 toll free (In QC: 1-866-277-3533), 24/7 or visit

[1] Levitt, A.J., Boyle, M.H., Joffe, R.T., & Baumal, Z. 2000. Estimated prevalence of the seasonal subtype of major depression in a Canadian community sample. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 45(7), 650-654.

[2] Magnusson, Andres, and Diane Boivin. “Seasonal affective disorder: an overview.” Chronobiology international 20, no. 2 (2003): 189-207.