Handling Your Winter Blues

by Beth Granet, PsyD

Winter is here. We have changed our clocks, pulled out our sweaters, and gotten our shovels ready for use. For many of us, it is dark outside when we wake up in the morning and when we leave work in the evening. The cold weather makes it all too tempting to stay home cozied up under a blanket instead of getting out and braving the temperature. For some, the winter holidays serve as a reminder of loved ones we have lost and the loneliness we combat as a result. With an increase in isolation and a decrease in daylight, it can be easy to find ourselves in a bit of a “funk.” If you tend to feel a little more down or sad during the winter months, you are certainly not alone. So, what can you do to feel more like yourself this winter? Here are some tips to stay ahead of the winter blues:

  • Stick to your schedule: Part of why winter can be so difficult is that it forces us outside of our usual routines. That makes keeping up with your usual sleep and activity schedule extra important. With all the darkness and cooler weather, you probably want to stay in bed longer than usual. Try to continue going to sleep and waking up at your regular time. Your body and mind will thank you for keeping up with your sleep routine, even if it takes the sunlight a little time to catch up with you! If are used to exercising, try and keep up with your fitness schedule too. When you find it difficult to put on your winter jacket and head to the gym, there are plenty of online resources for effective workouts to complete right at home!
  • Get some vitamin D: Speaking of sunlight, it can be hard to soak up any rays in the winter. However, we all know how important it is for our muscles and bones to get adequate doses of vitamin D. Consider trying to get outside, even for short periods. Take a brisk walk during lunch, have a snowball fight with your family, or walk the extra block for your daily coffee. It may even be helpful to add vitamin D rich foods such as certain fish (like tuna or salmon), milk, and eggs to your diet.
  • Make time for others: Maybe you are being invited to several holiday or social events with lots of family and friends. Or, perhaps winter happenings are a stark realization of your small social circle. Either way, be intentional about spending time with those you care about. Whether that includes a large office party and huge family dinner or catching up over hot cocoa with a few friends and movie nights with your partner, surround yourself with people that make you feel happy, loved, and relaxed. If it’s within your means, maybe even consider taking a vacation. Having a weekend getaway with your kids, family, or friends can be a great way to spend quality time and have something to look forward to. If you can travel somewhere warm, even better!
  • Make time for yourself: Even though spending time alone and away from others aligns with our natural instincts during the winter months, this is not the same as making time just for you. Instead of purposefully staying home and isolated, be sure to do things you might really enjoy. Cozy up and read the book you bought months ago, listen to music while cleaning or doing a puzzle, write in your journal, or spend a few hours pampering yourself with a bath or manicure. If you enjoy being active, think of all the activities that are only fun in the winter such as ice skating, sledding, skiing, snowboarding, or touring the neighborhood admiring holiday decorations. Whether you decide on something more active or decadent, carving out time specifically for something you enjoy can be a very effective remedy for the blues.

Implementing some of these suggestions as soon as we begin the transition into winter, is your best bet for helping them stick all season long. However, if you find that these efforts are not working for you, you might be struggling with more serious symptoms of depression as opposed to the winter blues. How do you know the difference? Although both involve general feelings of sadness, loneliness, or apathy, depression is longer-lasting and takes a greater toll on your day-to-day life. Specifically, depression involves a low mood each day, lasting most of the time. Depression symptoms tend to cause fatigue, agitation, or even feelings of guilt. Some individuals struggling with depression may even have frequent thoughts of death. If you feel that your sadness always seems to be part of you as opposed to seasonal, it may be time to seek out other treatment. Of course, talking to your therapist or doctor can help clarify what next steps might be right for you such as regular therapy sessions or medication. And for those of us who struggle with our mood in the winter months, remember: getting up, getting out, and staying warm can make all the difference!