SAD: Not Just the January Blues

By Lucy Connery

January marks the end of the holiday season, the beginning of a new year, and is often thought to be a fresh start for a better year and personal growth.

However, for many people this time of year is the hardest of all.

The holidays can bring stress, emotional distress and unhealthy coping mechanisms like consuming large amounts of unhealthy foods, drinking more alcoholic beverages than usual, staying inside to avoid the cold weather, etc.

The National Institute of Mental Health has documented that these behaviors could be indicative of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This condition is characterized by feelings of depression, anxiety and loneliness or isolation at the same time of year — spikes in SAD often occur in the winter time.

Seasonal affective disorder can also be a response to memories of losing a loved one, an emotional holiday season, weight fluctuation and even changes in the weather.

Not sure if you experience SAD? Symptoms include having low energ, problems sleeping, difficulty concentrating, feeling sluggish or agitated, changes in appetite, and feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt.

SAD is very common, affecting millions of individuals a year. Prevention includes regular physical activity, spending time outdoors and eating a balanced, nutritional diet. If you already experience SAD, these methods also serve as a form of treatment. Other treatments for SAD may include light therapy, medications and psychotherapy.

Accepting and recognizing mental health is not always easy or comfortable, but it is not anything to be ashamed of. If you or a loved one is struggling, seek help locally or nationally.

Lucy Connery is a health promotion specialist with The Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo.

How to Get Help

• Mental Health Advocates of WNY at (716) 886-1242 or

• Erie County Warm (non-crisis) Line at 1-844-749-3848

• Substance Use & Mental Health (SAMHSA) Helpline at 1-800-662-4357