Stop Surviving Winter and Start Thriving: How I Learned To Beat The "Winter Blues" And enjoy Winter

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or clinical therapist, and do not make any medical claims about how a person should or should not treat their SAD. If you are feeling that you may be depressed always contact your primary care physician, therapist, and family for help.


I've said it before and I'll say it again, winter in New England is a mindset...not a season.

If you live anywhere in the world with harsh winters, you will 100% understand what I mean, and honestly I hope that we can open up a discussion about the very negative mindset that tends to overcome societies during winter, and the very real "winter blues" or seasonal depression that so many people struggle silently with.

I have lived in New England almost my entire life. Other than the periods of time where I have lived/worked in various countries on global health projects, or the four years I crossed the Mason Dixon Line and lived in Baltimore for undergraduate school, I have lived in the North. Which means that I have experienced enough harsh New England winters at this point to realize that I either need to get onboard with winter, or get moving.

Stop Surviving Winter And Start Thriving: How I Learned To Stop Seasonal Depression (SAD) In It's Tracks And Bring More Sunshine Into Winter

my experience with the "winter blues"

Growing up, I always knew that the "winter blues" affected me a little more so than other members of my family, or some of my friends. I thrived during the summer, and growing up in a beach town we were out in the sun (safely with sunscreen) all the time. My skin was amazing, my mood was amazing, and I just felt like me. Then the dark months would come around, and the second day-light savings hit, and it started getting dark at 4:00PM, I would begin to feel it.

This change in my mood, in my sleep, and just generally how I felt as a whole. Luckily the holidays have always been one of my favorite times of year so in the past I could always make my way feeling mostly like myself through Christmas and New Years, and then it was just January, February, and March that I felt I had to really push through.

While I didn't really know what it was then (because no one really talked about it) I know now that my chronic fatigue, issues sleeping, and blue mood was absolutely the result of the change of season. While I have never been clinically diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, I certainly have had my fair share of tough winters that have left me feeling like a shell of my usual bubbly, positive self.

But once I was able to identify what was happening as the seasons changed I was able to start proactively coming up with ways to support my health both physically and mentally during the winter, and for me a lot of that had to do with actively changing my mindset, and understanding that the same habits will not support us all year long. We have to adapt.

the generalized and accepted mindset that winter is miserable is part of the problem

Because it is almost expected that everyone is going to miserable living in harsh winter climates during those few winters months, I think that it can be very easy to shrug off people who are being clinically affected by this harsh season.

Everyone is miserable right? So why should anyone feel the "winter blues" stronger? This mindset needs to change, because we are all unique and some of us are going to need more help from others during different times of year, or life and that is 100% okay.

people can't stop complaining, and it's helping no one.

For what seems like all winter long wherever you go people are complaining about the weather, about the snow, about the dark long days. And I totally get it, I used to be one of them. But here is the thing, complaining helps nothing, and no one. Complaining and emphasizing the negative of anything constantly only brings out more negativity, and for people who are really struggling with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) the last thing they need is to be constantly surrounded by negativity. 


But what is seasonal affective disorder (SAD) anyway?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of mood disorder that has a seasonal pattern. It often begins during the autumn months and will resolve itself in Spring. It typically affects women more than men, and is more likely to affect adolescents, and younger adults more than older adults. [1]

This is something to keep in mind as parents of adolescents and young adults who may seem to change into a different person during the winter time. It may be more than teenage moodiness, and there are things that friends/family members can do to help.

Signs that you (or a friend/family member) may be experiencing the "winter blues" or seasonal affective disorder [2,3]

  • Nightmares
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Appetite Changes (craving carbohydrates)
  • Irritability
  • "Hibernating" Social Withdrawal

what can you do about it?

Liked I mentioned above, I am not a medical doctor or a clinical therapist so I cannot provide any medical or personalized information about how to improve your SAD. All I can do is share with you what I know helped me personally, and what has been backed by scientific research to be helpful. Below are ten of my top tips for beating the winter blues that worked for me, and really helped me go into winter with a plan to support my mental and physical health. 


Stop Surviving Winter And Start Thriving: How I Learned To Stop Seasonal Depression In It's Tracks And Bring More Sunshine Into Winter

the simple remedies that worked to help me beat the winter blues and learn to enjoy winter here in new england


01: Get Outside Everyday

I do not care if it is -10 degrees outside, get outside when it is light out every single day for at least 15 minutes. Wrap yourself up nice and warm, breathe in that cold air, and focus on a positive thought or mantra. Humans are not meant to be inside all day, our brains need to see and be exposed to the sun, so fight all the excuses and get outside. 

02: Buy A humidifier

Our skin is one of our largest organs and it needs to be taken care of in the winter. Invest in a humidifier and have it running when you are home, and when you are sleeping. This is going to help you breathe better, help keep your skin hydrated, and will generally will help support your body during these winter months.

03: Get Your Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 Tested And Supplement Accordingly

I cannot express enough how important it is for those living in cold climates to get both their vitamin D and vitamin B12 checked. Virtually all of my nutrition private practice clients are chronically deficient in vitamin D, and more people are also deficient in vitamin B12 than we would expect. These two vitamins can have a huge impact on our mood so it is important to know where you stand and work with a dietitian to help you supplement accordingly. 

Even if you don't feel you need nutrition counseling, it is always a good idea to run your supplement questions by a clinically trained dietitian who can help identify what you need personally. 

04: switch to a sunLight simulating Alarm Clock

In our old apartment our bedroom got very little light, which was only making my issues sleeping worse. I was having a horrible time falling asleep and a horrible time waking up in the morning. While there wasn't much I could do about the natural light situation, we did invest in a sunlight simulating alarm clock, which made mornings much easier. 

We also prioritizing natural light when we moved into our current apartment since I knew how important it was for me during the winter months. Now our bedroom gets a ton of morning light and it has made a huge difference. 

05: Limit Caffeine Consumption

I am all for a cup of delicious coffee, but caffeine is a known stress on our body, and can affect cortisol levels. If you are already having issues sleeping, I would limit your caffeine consumption to one cup, before 10AM and really fight the urge to rely on it to get you through the day.

06: Exercise Mindfully + With A Buddy

I am all for listening to your body when it comes to exercise, but in the winter time it is so so important to get your body moving regularly. This is going to positively affect your mood by increasing serotonin production. 

You don't need to do a HIIT workout to get this positive effect either. Focus on workouts that make you feel energized like yoga, or light-weight lifting, or a walk with a friend. Having a buddy to help keep you motivated can be really helpful on days when it is freezing cold and you just don't want to go outside.

07: Take An Epsom Salt Bath 2-3 Times Per Week

I love epsom salt baths because they are one of the best ways that our body can absorb magnesium directly through our skin and into our blood stream. Taking an epsom salt bath a few times a week is a great way to promote self-care during the winter, and increase the amount of magnesium you are getting. Magnesium is so helpful for sleep, and anxiety. You can learn more about why this is one of my favorite minerals here. 

08: Invest In A Light Lamp

Some light lamps are more expensive than others, but in general research has found that light therapy can be very effective in combating seasonal affective disorder (SAD). If you find that you are strongly affected by SAD every winter it may be worth investing it.

Here are two with great options that have been well reviewed for SAD:

09: Choose A Winter Hobby That Brings You Joy

You need to find something that you can look forward to and will bring you joy during the winter. Ideally it would also involve other people. For instance, you could sign up for a pottery class, take a cooking class, or join a book club that meets once a week. People who are affected by the winter blues are going to naturally be inclined to hibernate, but being around people is so so important for our mental health. So choose a hobby that you think you will enjoy, or find a few friends who are all willing to commit to doing something each week that gets everyone out and together.

10: Work On Changing Your Mindset

This is going to be the hardest part, but also the most effective. Your mindset going into winter and throughout winter will affect how you feel more than anything. If you are committed to living in a part of the world where there are winters, I recommend starting to actively change what you tell yourself about winter. 

For example:

  • I love winter because I can slow down and read the books I always wanted to read
  • I love the holidays and seeing friends and family
  • I love the snow and how beautiful it looks
  • I love the way I feel when I take that first breathe of cold air and it wakes me up
  • I love hot chocolate or tea on a cold winter night

Start outlining the things you love/like about winter and write them down, post them on your fridge, or read them back to yourself everyday. 

Lastly, start paying attention to how much you complain about winter, and what your internal dialogue is telling you. Each time it says something negative, challenge that statement and reframe it with a positive. 

For example:

  • I hate the winter, it's so cold and it keeps me from doing the workouts that I love
    • Challenge the negative: Is winter really keeping me from working out? Am I letting winter be an excuse to skip my self-care?
    • Reframe to a positive: Winter helps encourage me to focus more on yoga because when it is cold outside all I want to do is walk into a hot studio and get my flow on. 

Now it is your turn, write down as many things as you can that you enjoy about this time of year and start prioritizing them. Watch as you slowly start to feel better and get better at supporting during body and mind during these winter months.

Also never ever ever feel embarrassed to ask for help. Tell your partner, family, friends how you are feeling and ask them to help you during these months. I also can't recommend enough how important it is to talk to your own doctor or therapist about your concerns so they can help support you as well.


If you feel like you need a little more guidance or structure during the winter months, I also have creating a free healthy lifestyle planner to help encourage you to make good choices around food and self-care. Just sign-up with your email below and you can immediately download the planner.

Disclaimer: This post also does contain some affiliate links, but as always all opinions are my own.


references

  1. Mc Mahon, B., Andersen, S. B., Madsen, M. K., Hjordt, L. V., Hageman, I., Dam, H., ... & Hasholt, L. (2016). Seasonal difference in brain serotonin transporter binding predicts symptom severity in patients with seasonal affective disorder. Brain139(5), 1605-1614.Chicago
  2. Sandman, N., Merikanto, I., Määttänen, H., Valli, K., Kronholm, E., Laatikainen, T., ... & Paunio, T. (2016). Winter is coming: nightmares and sleep problems during seasonal affective disorder. Journal of sleep research25(5), 612-619.
  3. Kaminski-Hartenthaler, A., Nussbaumer, B., Forneris, C. A., Morgan, L. C., Gaynes, B. N., Sonis, J. H., ... & Van Noord, M. G. (2014). Melatonin and agomelatine for preventing seasonal affective disorder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.Chicago