How to Help the Winter Blues

11 mins read

This article is written to provide tips for keeping spirits high during the winter months.

Oh, the weather outside is frightful! Nowhere does that line seem quite as true as in Saskatchewan. In a province where, during the winter months, our temperatures are not infrequently colder than Mars, the cold weather can take its toll on one’s psyche. As the weather becomes cold (or stays cold well into April), and it seems that all you can do is stay inside while the wind howls on the other side of the windowpane, a wave of low emotions can threaten to overwhelm you. While many see the winter season as an opportunity for festivity, getting cozy with a mug of cocoa and a book, or staying active with winter sports, the Canadian Mental Health Association estimates 15% of Canadians experience the winter blues.1

The winter blues can be characterized by low moods, wanting to sleep longer, eating more “comfort food” or food that is high in carbohydrates and sugars compared to other necessary macronutrients, and spending more time alone watching TV than with friends and family. Altogether, the winter blues can make you less productive at work and home, less inclined to be social, and keep your emotional wellbeing low.

So, what can you do when the weather gets you down? How can you combat the mental impact of long, cold winters? Here are 5 tips to help you beat the winter blues:

1. Soak Up the Sunlight

While it may sound silly, consider the amount of light lost in the winter months! In Saskatoon, on the winter solstice, there are approximately 8 hours between sunrise and sunset compared to over 16 hours on the summer solstice. From a scientific standpoint, exposure to sunlight (particularly against our skin, which is often covered up in the winter) is believed to increase the production of serotonin in the body.2 Serotonin is often referred to as the “happy hormone,” and helps regulate mood, happiness, and anxiety. Additionally, serotonin is involved in stimulating parts of the brain which control your sleeping and waking. When levels of serotonin are low, unusual sleep patterns may emerge and you may be more likely to feel sleepy or fatigued.

During the winter months, spend as much time outside during the sunlight hours as you can! As previously discussed in our series on the Value of Solitude, it’s time to reconsider what “good weather” looks like. Bundle up, put on your toque, scarf, and mittens, and experience some wintry sunlight! If you can’t get outside, keep the curtains open, and spend some time near the windows. Whether if it’s a sparkling sunny day or a cloudy one, getting in some natural light can help boost your mood.

2. Embrace the Bracing Winter

Okay, bear with me. What if winter wasn’t so cold, dark, and gloomy? Here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be! Scandinavians, people who live in some of the darkest, longest winters, are consistently ranked as some of the happiest people in the world!3 This is not achieved by pretending the cold doesn’t exist, but rather by embracing and appreciating winter for what it is.

Instead of thinking about what you don’t like about winter, consider what you do. Write them down! Though it’s true, a frosty morning means you need to scrape the windshield of your car, it also means that there are intricate, unique patterns of natural art on every surface. Take a moment to appreciate them! Embracing winter can everything from going for a walk after a fresh snowfall, making fun wintertime plans inside and outside the house, spending the day baking and cooking with friends and family, the possibilities are endless!

As mentioned, some people take winter as an opportunity to get cozy with a good book and mug of their hot drink of choice. When you lean into the warmth of winter, you might find the chill of the winter blues melting. While spending your entire winter with a book and away from your friends and family is not a good practice, it’s important to let yourself embrace the quiet of the season. Use this opportunity to do something that nurtures your mind, like journaling or reading a good book. Winter is a great time for reflection, and when better to reflect than when curled up near a window, watching the snow fall? Whether alone or with those you love, pull on your fuzzy socks and grab a blanket, because the weather outside may be frightful, but the fire is so delightful.

3. Keep Moving

While it can be easy to curl up all winter and not move your body, movement is one of the most important things you can do for yourself during the winter months! Whether this means attending classes at your local gym, getting outside for some winter sports, or even going for a peaceful wintertime walk, keeping your body moving throughout the winter months will help keep your mind active and the blues away. According to studies, exercise can lower anxiety, depression, and negative moods. Exercise has also been found to alleviate low self-esteem and social withdrawal.4

In the face of the winter blues, keeping active is fundamental in encouraging a positive mindset. Again, reconsider what you think of as “good weather” and get outdoors for some activity! Let yourself embrace the brisk air, and keep moving.

4. Sleep Soundly but Smartly

As discussed, the winter blues can impact your sleep schedule. During the long winter months, you might be tempted to “hibernate,” to sleep longer than usual. While this might seem like a good idea, given the sleepiness that comes with a lack of sunlight, try to resist the urge. Letting yourself spend more and more time asleep will keep you feeling lethargic and slow, and can be detrimental to your mental and emotional wellbeing.

On your days off, get out of bed at your usual time. Even if this only means moving from bed to an armchair near a window to drink your morning coffee, do it! Getting up, moving around, taking in some sunlight, and interacting with friends and family will help wake you up and raise your spirits. Then, when it is time to sleep, enjoy the coolness of your room and the warmth of your bed. Go to bed at your usual time – though the sun is setting earlier, that does not mean you need to!

5. Talk to Someone Professional

Finally, our last tip for helping the winter blues, is that if trying these tips doesn’t help or you believe you need more support, reach out to a professional therapist or counsellor. While the winter blues can happen to most anyone, if they happen on an annual basis and impair your daily life, going to a professional for counselling can be a great burden-reliever and can help set you on the right path to improved mental health and wellness.

There you have it! 5 tips to help you manage those pesky winter blues. While the winter blues might manifest differently in different people, trying some of these tips might help you overcome the encroaching winter slump and turn the season into something bright, active, and (dare I say) fun! Remember, every day might not feel like a win in the face of the winter blues, but being aware of them, their impact on you, and the ways you can help yourself grow from them, are all steps in the right direction! Be kind to yourself this winter season, both mentally and physically, and this winter can be the best one yet.

Download this resource How to Help the Winter Blues.

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1 “Winter Blues 101” Canadian Mental Health Association. https://cmha.ca/winter-blues-101/#_ftn1

2 Sansone, Randy A., Lori A. Sansone. “Sunshine, Serotonin, and Skin: A Partial Explanation for Seasonal Patterns in Psycopathology?” National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3779905/

3 Leibowitz, Kari. “What Scandinavians Can Teach Ups About Embracing Winter.” New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/15/well/mind/Scandinavia-Norway-Winter-Mindset.html

4 Sharma, Ashish, et. al. “Exercise for Mental Health.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/#!po=16.6667

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