Rochester, NY

Seasonal Depression and the Holiday Blues

Some people love the cold weather months. For others, this time of year leaves them feeling sad, depressed or even lonely.

Geoffrey Hopkins, MD, senior medical director of behavioral health at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, answers some questions about the symptoms of, and help for, seasonal depression.

Q: Dr. Hopkins, why do people often feel blue this time of year?

A. When there is less sunlight, our bodies produce more melatonin, and that can make you feel drowsy or low on energy. With less sunlight, we also produce less serotonin, which can cause low mood or sadness. Some people may not really notice a change. For others, they may have mild and temporary changes in mood, also called the holiday or winter blues. Some people experience symptoms that are more severe and last all season, and even happen at the same time each year. That’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Up to 25% of people have changes in mood this time of year according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Q: Despite this time of year being very social, it is lonely for many.

A. This time of year we are inside and isolated more. The holidays can also be tough for those who are missing a loved one or are having a tough time connecting socially.

Q: What things can we do to beat the blues?

A. Good sleep, a healthy diet, and exercise can all help your mood. And, even in the colder months, get outside for some sun. Find ways to connect with others. Call or get together with a family member or friend. Volunteering can also be fun, rewarding, and social.

Q: When we feel blue, when is the right time to talk to someone?

A: It is okay to ask for help if you feel sad, low, or lonely. If you feel this way longer than a week or two, talk to your primary care provider or mental health provider. They will talk to you about your feelings and help you with next steps or treatment. Many offer telehealth visits.

  • If you are in distress or crisis, you can call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for 24/7, free and confidential support. Call or text 988*, or call 1-800-273-8255 (TTY 711). Language assistance is available. *988 may not be available in every state.
  • If you or a loved one is experiencing an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Dr. Geoffrey Hopkins, senior medical director of behavioral health at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, is board certified in Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and Adult psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

Joy Auch, (585) 238-4374,

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, is a nonprofit health plan with 1.5 million upstate New York members. The company's mission is to help people live healthier and more secure lives through access to high-quality, affordable health care. Its products and services include cost-saving prescription drug discounts, wellness tracking tools and access to telemedicine. With more than 4,200 employees, the company is committed to attracting and retaining a diverse workforce to foster innovation and better serve its members. It also encourages employees to engage in their communities by providing paid volunteer time off as one of many benefits. To learn more, visit


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