10 Tips From a Psychotherapist to Help Combat 'the Winter Blues’

As we wind down the end of the year and the days shorten (yet the pace only seems to quicken), many of us can experience the onset of “the winter blues,” a sense of sadness, anxiety, depression or for some, full-blown seasonal affective disorder (SAD). If this feels familiar for you or if you’ve been seeing this show up for your loved ones, then I want to offer 10 tips to help “beat the winter blues.”

Why is it that people often get “the winter blues” during this time of the year? “The winter blues” is a term that often gets thrown around and can mean different things for different people.

For some, “the winter blues” may mean an increased sense of anxiety about the end of the year and the upcoming holidays, whether that’s because of goals unmet at work or in your personal life, anticipating spending time with family you’d rather avoid or clocking in another holiday without a loved one who you’ve perhaps lost to death or to a breakup.

For others, “the winter blues” may arrive in the form of seasonal depression, more commonly known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which, according to the DSM-5, is considered to be a reoccurring subtype of major depression or bipolar disorder that typically occurs at the same seasonal period each year (typically fall and winter for most people).

While the intensity of seasonal depression symptoms and the reasons for onset may vary from individual to individual, it’s thought that the decreased levels of sunlight in the fall and winter months may affect an individual’s serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects our well-being and happiness. For some, a reduction in naturally-produced serotonin levels can contribute to the onset of SAD each year.

Whatever the reason, root or cause, “the winter blues” can feel challenging for many of us. Please, know you’re not alone, and there are some things you can specifically do to enhance your well-being at this time of year.

So how can we help “beat the winter blues”?

There are endless ways and methods to support your overall well-being. While there is certainly no one-size-fits-all prescription that will work for everyone, most of us can support our overall mental health and well-being by focusing on the following seven recommendations:

1. Recognize that mental health is every single bit as important as physical health and invest in your mental health by seeking out comprehensive and regular professional support, when and if you need it.

2. Take good care of your physical health and, with professional support, rule out any underlying health conditions that may be contributing to your lack of happiness and well-being.

3. Build nourishing relationships in your life and reduce (or eliminate) contact with those relationships that drain, diminish or don’t support you.

4. Deliberately plan play, joy and adventure into your daily and weekly routines.

5. Spend time in nature.

6. Limit time spent on social media or be curious about how you can better use it to support your mental health.

7. Connect to something bigger than yourself, whether it be nature, a social justice cause or a form of religion or spirituality.

Also, if you’ve been following my articles for awhile, you know I’m a big believer in self-care and in cultivating a large “toolbox” of activities, resources and methods to help support your mental health.

When working with my clients who are looking for at-home remedies or activities that would help them “beat the winter blues,” after ruling out the need for any pharmacological or physiological supports or screenings, I then invite them to consider these questions:

  1. What are you already doing in your daily or weekly routine that brings you joy or some sense of support and nourishment? Whatever it is, first do more of that. For instance, does taking a work break by Skyping with your beloved nephew bring you joy? Could you do more of that throughout the week?
  2. If there’s nothing that is currently a support in helping you feel less sad or depressed, can you think about a time in your past where certain activities felt supportive and helpful to you? Could you imagine revisiting some of those past activities? For instance, if when you felt generally better and happier in the past few years and hosting a potluck for your girlfriends felt really good to you, could you imagine doing that again?
  3. Consider building a “toolkit” of emotional coping mechanisms that engage all of your senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Design a variety of soothing activities that engage all or some of your senses and engage in these when you are feeling sad, depressed or in need of some comfort. For instance, can you wrap yourself in a fleece blanket with a steaming cup of your favorite tea under some Christmas lights while you listen to your favorite albums?

The sky is the limit when it comes to imagining and cultivating creative, self-soothing, home-based activities, resources and methods to support your mental health. So be curious about what is, has and will work best for you personally. Then, try those activities out regularly (and don’t be afraid to tweak and adjust as needed!)

Most importantly, please, remember this: Anxiety, depression or “the winter blues” are not a sign of weakness, brokenness or anything to be ashamed about. Period.

For many, depression, anxiety and “the winter blues” is treatable. You can live with this and still live a wonderful life. It just may look different than you imagined sometimes. Depression, anxiety and “the winter blues” looks differently for everyone. So find out what your version of it needs to be managed and helped. You don’t have to be alone in your depression, anxiety and “winter blues.” You can get help, and you deserve to get help.

This post originally appeared on Annie Wright Psychotherapy.

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