Get Ahead of the Winter Blues
Stacey J. Drubner, JD, LICSW, MPH
Winter in New England is long and cold. For some people, this leads to feeling more tired, less energetic, unmotivated, sad and even depressed. These feelings may be more pronounced this year with the added stress from the pandemic and less access to your regular ways of coping. It’s not as easy to take vacations or visit with family or friends.
There are things you can do to take care of yourself and thrive until the days get longer and the sun shines more.
Healthy Lifestyle Options
If you are experiencing mild winter blues, focusing on improving sleep, nutrition, exercise and mindfulness will go a long way in making winter more tolerable. Sometimes, starting is the hardest part. Below are ideas for how to practice a healthy lifestyle.
- Set reasonable and achievable goals
- Keep a journal or use an app to track progress
- Work with a buddy for check-ins and support
- Limit caffeine and alcohol use
- Get outside to experience natural light
- Eat well – Brigham Health
- Try winter workouts – Harvard Health
- Improve sleep – MGH Sleep Disorders Clinical Research Program
- Build your coping skills – Mass General Brigham EAP
- Take 10 minutes to de-stress – Mass General Brigham EAP
Seeking Help when Winter Blues become Seasonal Affective Disorder
Sometimes a winter mood is more severe and may be difficult to address with simple lifestyle modifications. In these cases, you may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or some other form of depression. SAD results from your brain’s response to less sunlight in the winter, leading to symptoms of depression.
Winter blues make you less happy, but typically do not affect your ability to enjoy life. SAD tends to permeate all aspects of your life — from work to personal relationships and can include:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Having low energy
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Problems sleeping
- Changes in your appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
If you experience symptoms of SAD, don’t worry alone. There are interventions, such as light therapy, medications or cognitive behavioral therapy that can be helpful. Contact your medical provider or the EAP for confidential assistance at 866-724-4327.