6 Keys to Shake Off the Winter Blues

This post is written by Danielle Capelle, LCMHC, CCNH’s director of Mental Health Services.

My friend Sandra makes a dramatic announcement – “I’m done! I’m moving to Florida!”

Yet when July comes around, there she is, a smile on her face as she is hiking the White Mountains in the warm summer son.

Sandra is not a fan of the winter at all. She much prefers to stay inside and sit by the warm fire than hit the ski slopes, ice skate or take in the snowy sights around us. She admits the longer days and cold weather dampen her mood and motivation to go to the gym, hang out with friends or partake in many of her hobbies.

Sandra struggles with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or as many call it, “the winter blues.” It’s a condition that affects approximately five percent of Americans, and can manifest in various ways, such as difficulty concentrating, loss of interest in usual activities, low levels of energy or general feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

If the colder months get you down, here are six keys to help manage the seasonal blues:

  1. Stay active: Exercise can be one of your best remedies to boost your mood, especially in these dark months. Regular physical activity, like walking, running, cycling or yoga, can effectively alleviate negative moods that may come with SAD. To make it more enjoyable (and motivate you even more), consider joining a daily steps challenge, or set a weekly or monthly activity goal.
  2. Maintain a healthy diet: When you eat can dictate how you feel. Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can help maintain energy levels and reduce mood swings. Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, are particularly good for boosting mood. And if you’re a coffee lover (like me!), know that excessive caffeine and sugar can lead to energy crashes and worsen mood fluctuations.
  3. Maintain a routine: Having a consistent routine and control over your schedule can help your mood and energy levels. Try having a regular schedule for waking up, eating, working, exercising, and sleeping. While establishing a routine may seem mundane at first, you may be surprised at how well you may feel.
  4. Socialize! While those with SAD or regular seasonal blues may be more prone to spending time alone, social support is critical for your mental health! Join a social club (I love my art club!), a fitness class at the gym or even a cooking class. Winter is often a “slow” time of year when it’s easier to make plans with friends and family. Make it a point to go out to dinner once a week with a friend, or catch up with family on the phone on a set day of the week.
  5. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness and relaxation can be a powerful tool in reducing stress and managing your mood. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises or guided imagery can decrease stress, improve mood, and improve your overall well-being. Additionally, activities such as reading, listening to calming music, or taking a warm bath can also provide relaxation and a much-needed break from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
  6. Know that it’s okay to get help: Remember, 5% of Americans are impacted by SAD clinically (that’s 17 million people!). You’re certainly not alone in how you feel. Seeking professional help is one of the best tools to combat your mood and overall well-being. Our counseling team regularly works with those dealing with SAD and other related symptoms and we’re already happy to help.

It’s understandable to feel down during the winter months, and you certainly aren’t alone. By incorporating these strategies into your daily life, you can help ease the symptoms of the seasonal blues and enjoy the winter season more fully.

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