The Winter Blues
January 25, 2019 By Monique Johnson, MA, LCPC
The holidays are over and winter is in full effect. January and February can be tough months for everyone; with less sunlight and the temperatures dropping, it can be hard to remain in a positive mood as winter progresses. You may notice that your mood shifts for the worse and have no idea why. For some people, it happens earlier, but for others it is in full force after the New Year, and could last until the beginning of spring. Some call this shift in mood during the winter months, the Winter Blues.
The Winter Months
Have you ever wondered why all of sudden your mood changes in the winter? An individual may have never experienced depression before, but still notice a change in themselves during certain months of the year. You may have never recognized this pattern in your behavior and emotions before. The first shift in our mood may come with Daylight Savings time—the clocks get set back an hour and we lose one hour of daylight. And then we continue to lose daylight as the winter progresses. The loss of sunlight that we normally receive during other months of the year can create a deficiency in our Vitamin D intake. The lack of Vitamin D impacts our levels of serotonin, which can result in a decline in our mood.
Another factor that plays a role in the Winter Blues are the cold temperatures here in Chicago. January and February are typically the coldest months of the year, sometimes dropping below zero. People tend to stay indoors due to the extreme cold, which can result in even less exposure to sunlight. All of these factors increase the symptoms of depression around this time of the year.
Winter Blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Your typical Winter Blues may appear in a variety of ways. You may notice that during the winter months your general mood declines. You are not as happy as you used to be. You may experience less energy to manage your daily routine. You may feel more irritable. You may lose some interest in the things you typically enjoy, or even keep to yourself a bit more. You may find yourself sleeping or napping more frequently.
When the Winter Blues are intense, your symptoms might meet the diagnostic criteria for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of clinical depression that occurs during a specific time of the year. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, to be diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, an individual must meet the full criteria for major depression coinciding with specific seasons for at least two years.
How to Manage the Winter Blues
The good thing is that there are ways to manage these feelings. Here are just a handful of tips to fight the Winter Blues:
Go outside for a walk during daylight hours, go to the gym, or workout at home. Exercise and physical activity can have a huge impact on a person’s mood.
Eating healthy foods will give you more energy throughout the day and help boost your mood. Some people also complain about weight gain during the winter months. Eating healthy can also help address weight concerns and self-image issues that may accompany weight gain.
As stated earlier, it can get very cold in Chicago. So, dress warmly when going outside, drink hot drinks, and eat hot foods. The cold temperature is an opportunity to nurture yourself and practice self-care.
Find a Winter Hobby.
The winter months bring new outdoor activities and family events. These activities may provide a nice distraction from the negative thoughts that often accompany this negative mood.
Some people choose to use light therapy to help replenish the lack of sunlight during the winter months. Light therapy involves a light box that emits a type of light that is similar to sunlight. This light helps to reset the body’s internal clock, and can help restore the balance of our serotonin levels that are lost in the winter months. Check out this article that shares information about the best light therapy boxes. https://www.health.com/depression/best-light-therapy-boxes
It is very important to stay connected with family and friends. Resist the urge to isolate—spend time with family and friends even when you don’t always feel up for it. You may be surprised how much fun you have once you commit to socialize.
It is also helpful and beneficial to seek professional support. Sometimes we cannot shake the winter blues or cope with SAD by implementing self-care strategies alone. We need the support of someone else to get us through this tough season. Here at Upswing we are trained to work with individuals that may experience moderate to severe symptoms of depression. Check out my page to schedule your first appointment!
Seasonal Affective Disorder. (2016, March). Retrieved January 13, 2019, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml#part_152432
For More Information
Monique Johnson, MA, LCPC is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor with experience working with children, adolescents, young adults, and families. While creating a safe space for her clients to grow, she also challenges them and inspires them to be their best self. She is located at Upswing Counseling, in Wheaton, IL.