Winter isn’t seeming to understand that we want to break up and, for many people, that means the “winter blues” aren’t leaving either. Around 10 to 20 percent of recurring depression follows a seasonal pattern, however, even if you don’t struggle with clinical depression, the weather can definitely still impact your mood.
It can be tempting to want to “beat the winter blues,” but Sarah Herstich, MSW, LCSW, says that shifting our perspective from beating the winter blues to instead being aware of and experiencing the winter blues can be more effective.
“So many people do anything in their power not to feel down throughout the winter months. But, by doing so, they’re entangling themselves with emotions and adding fuel to their fire, leaving them feeling just as bad as they did to begin with, maybe even worse,” Herstich said. “The way to move through emotional overwhelm is to be with the feelings and allow them to come and go while you prioritize caring for yourself and treating yourself with kindness and compassion,” she added.
An important aspect of what makes many people more susceptible to mood decreases in the winter is that we are indoors more, and it gets dark earlier.
Kathleen Dahlen DeVos, MA, LMFT, shared, “Winter asks us to slow down and conserve energy. So, making small adjustments to our days and schedules can help bolster emotional wellness throughout the season. Fresh air and daylight help keep the body’s circadian rhythms functioning properly, which affects the timely release of the hormones responsible for feelings of happiness and wellbeing.” She added, “A brisk, 10-minute walk in the morning or midday will suffice!”
DeVos also explained that the “winter blues” can often be caused by overscheduling during the winter months.
“Try removing even just one commitment from your schedule per week and see what you notice when you have a little downtime, ” said DeVos.
One of the most crucial things to note about experiencing low moods during the winter months is offering yourself some compassion.
Colleen Reichmann, Ph.D., said, “It doesn’t mean you are broken, or ‘not trying hard enough,’ it just means you are human. Some of us are just programmed to experience this change in mood related to daylight. The feelings are real and valid.”
Reichmann also shared that seeking professional help before the winter season can be helpful.
“If you have identified this pattern for yourself, enlist the support of a therapist prior to the winter season,” said Reichmann. “Then, take the time to process and generate some ways to handle the emotions that you know you are likely to experience come winter. This way, you will be prepared beforehand, which increases the likelihood that you will actually use the skills when winter comes along,” she added.
One last suggestion for navigating the “winter blues” is by using a Dialectical Behavior Therapy skill called “opposite action.”
“If your mind is telling you to isolate or stay in bed, practice reaching out to a friend or getting out of the house,” said Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C. “Often when we feel down or depressed we don’t ‘feel like doing’ the things that will actually boost our mood. So, we have to let ourselves feel depressed and take these helpful actions anyways,” Rollin added.
While experiencing the “winter blues” can be a frustrating and isolating experience. your feelings are valid, and you aren’t alone! Remember to be gentle with yourself during this challenging, stressful time of year, and consider using these suggestions while navigating seasonal mood changes.