December 8, 2022/Mental Health

Winter Blues Got You Down? Here’s How To Cope

Step back from social media, set boundaries and spot the symptoms of SAD

Family working out inside the house while it's snowing outside.

Cold spell got you feeling in a funk? Or maybe it’s all the snow that makes you want to hibernate. When the weather outside gets frightful and the sun sets at the strike of 5 p.m., it’s not uncommon to feel less-than-sunny.

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We’re here to help make sense of how Jack Frost affects our moods and offer up some tips for people who struggle with the chilly season.

A woman appearing to be sad.

Blues or SAD?

If you find that the winter months bring on persistent symptoms of depression, it may be that you’re living with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). People with SAD may feel anxious or irritated for prolonged periods, timed around the winter months. They’re also likely to withdraw from social situations and have trouble concentrating.

Unlike the mild, come-and-go winter blues, SAD is a major depressive disorder that needs treatment. Spot the difference between SAD and the winter blues, and talk with a healthcare provider if your down mood lasts more than a few weeks.

Woman serving food to her family at the dining room table.

Or maybe it’s just the holidays

While the holiday season can be a time for reflection, joy and spending time with family, it can also be a time of stress and sadness. Things get busy. You’re under pressure trying to get the perfect gift for everyone on your list. And, let’s face it … all that family time can sometimes just be too much.

If holiday stress has you less cheery and more bear-y, psychologist Dawn Potter, PsyD, suggests setting boundaries for yourself and limiting your social media use. There’s nothing that will put needless extra pressure on you quite like trying to measure up to someone else’s Instagram-curated version of the holidays.

Child sitting at a table next to a lamp, eating and drinking.

Light up your life

Sunlight plays a big role in regulating our mood and our sleep-wake cycles. So, when the winter months bring on gray skies, a little boost of sunshine can do our bodies and our minds a world of good. Psychologist Adam Borland, PsyD, says light therapy can help people living with SAD or anyone who could use a bit of sunshine-like light in the winter.

Man riding a bike

Get moving

One of the best ways to fight off the winter blues is to get yourself moving. That’s right. Integrative medicine physician Irina Todorov, MD, says exercise really does improve your mood.

You don’t have to forgo your run in the cold months, but you might want to take a few extra precautions, like making sure your shoes are up to the challenge and taking extra care to keep your muscles stretched. If an indoor workout is more up your alley, you can start assembling a home gym with just a few key pieces of equipment (think a yoga ball and a jump rope). Or find a yoga class that works for you. Getting in the habit of exercise can help lift your spirits and do your body a world of good.

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soup with winter vegetables

Food to lift your mood

Many good-for-you foods are also natural mood boosters. That’s because there are some foods that help release chemicals in your brain that are responsible for feelings like calmness, happiness and alertness.

What should you eat to help fight the winter blues? Cleveland Clinic experts recommend warm oatmeal with sliced banana. Or some cozy chicken vegetable soup. Or even an apple with nut butter.

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