Mental Health

3 Tips to Manage the Winter Blues

Every year, the summer turns to fall, and the fall turns to winter. A lot of us have been going to the same job, doing the same work, and talking with the same people. However, as the days are filled with increasing darkness and dropping temperatures, those with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may notice feelings of sadness or depression. So, what is seasonal affective disorder? SAD has a variety of symptoms that may manifest themselves in a number of different ways. Some people may notice that they no longer want to do things they used to enjoy – maybe they loved playing hockey on Wednesdays, but lately, it’s stopped being of interest to them. They may even feel slowed down, and like they don’t have the energy they had just a few months before. They may also feel tired despite sleeping much more than usual. In addition, those with SAD are prone to overeating, with cravings for pizza, cookies, chocolate, bread, or other carbohydrates. As a result, weight gain is also a common symptom. In severe cases, people who are struggling may even feel hopeless or helpless and have thoughts about wanting to end their life. Experts who diagnose SAD sometimes use different terminology – they may call it a major depressive episode with a seasonal pattern. This means that the person meets all the diagnostic criteria for a major depressive episode, and that they have only experienced these symptoms in the winter months for the two preceding years. Some people may only experience a few of the symptoms without having the full disorder. No matter how severe the symptoms, everyone should have the opportunity to warm up those winter blues. Here are 3 tips to help you do just that:

1. Move your body

Unfortunately for those who struggle with SAD, this might be a time to do the opposite of what you feel in spite of your low energy and increased appetite. The truth is, the less we move, the less we want to move – momentum breeds momentum. This means that if we want energy, we need to create energy by moving. Regular exercise has been shown to be effective in treating mild to moderate depression, so hit the gym, do some yoga, go to a boxing class, or play a sport.

2. Change how you think to change how you feel

If the dark skies are infiltrating your mind and darkening your thoughts, it’s time to intentionally look for the light. A basic tenet in cognitive behavioral therapy – one of the world’s most widely used therapies for treating depression – operates under the assumption that if you can change how you think, you can change how you feel. Developing this new mental skill for controlling your thoughts can take time, but it’s important to be persistent, even if you don’t notice instant results. An easy way to get started is by writing in a daily gratitude journal.

3. Try a bright light

Many studies have shown bright light therapy to be effective for treating seasonal mood problems. Daily dosing of bright light is thought to help restore the body’s natural rhythms in the fall/winter months. Some people find that light alarm clocks can be helpful for SAD. This is an alarm clock that gradually lights up over a set amount of time to wake you up – it’s a gentle alternative to beeping or the radio. In other cases, people find that both bright light dosing and a light alarm can be helpful. It might seem like spring is a long way away, but you can start acting now to better your mental state. A key to managing your mood is taking ownership of what you can control and working to improve your daily habits.


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Author: Amber Dalsin, (MSc., C.Psych)
Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute
Amber is the co-author of CTRI’s book, Counselling Insights: Practical Strategies for Helping Others with Anxiety, Trauma, Grief, and More. The book is available on our website.

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