Do You Have Winter Depression? Two Experts Share What You Can Do About It

Days get shorter. Nights get longer. The cold makes you want to stay indoors. It might be a winter mood or it might be winter depression. Find out.

winter depression, a woman in her apartment looks out her windowphoto credit: shutterstock

Why am I sad lately? It just may be winter depression

For those who struggle with their mental health, autumn can represent the beginning of the end – the end of warm weather and carefree days. Here are a few suggestions to help you prepare for the months that may cause winter depression.

Elizabeth says

A The fall is notoriously difficult for me. Returning to school and work and anticipating the cold, dark days ahead often makes me want to crawl into bed and sleep until April! Fortunately, I’ve learned to prepare for the onslaught of winter with some helpful techniques that make the seasonal transition easier.

I swear by my seasonal affective disorder (SAD) light therapy lamp. Exposure to light emitted from SAD lamps causes a chemical change in the brain that can actually reduce many symptoms of depression. As recommended by my doctor, I use mine first thing in the morning for 20 to 30 minutes and feel a significant difference in my mood. (In addition to winter depression, here are five other health conditions that get worse in the winter.)

While I love to be active all year round, exercise is a non-negotiable part of my fall routine. The endorphins produced by physical activity are known to be a mental health booster, and on days when I break a sweat, I feel emotionally lighter and more hopeful.

The impending arrival of winter can seduce us into seeking solace in unhealthy foods, such as ice cream and fried foods. While eating poorly makes me feel better temporarily, it’s short lived. The crash always comes after a sugar high. I try to make smart food choices that nourish my body and mind.

Lisa says

A Fall is often the busiest time of year in my practice. The shorter days and cooler temperatures generate a significant decline in mood. For those who struggle with SAD, the lack of sunlight often triggers feelings of sadness, difficulty getting out of bed and a distinct lack of motivation. But with the right tools, it is possible to combat seasonal blues, manage symptoms of SAD and live a happy and productive life all year round.

Fight the urge to hide under the covers by avoiding the snooze button and getting up first thing in the morning. Once you’ve overcome the initial challenge of waking up, make your bed and leave the bedroom. Take a few extra minutes to have your coffee and read the news. The temptation to crawl back into bed is greatly reduced once you’re up and about and your bed is made for the day. (Think winter depression might be a sign of something more serious? Here are the unmistakable signs of clinical depression.)

Adopting a gratitude practice can shift your focus from experiencing the doom and gloom of dark winter days to feeling appreciative of the blessings in your life. Make it a habit to set aside some time at the beginning or end of every day to write down five things you’re grateful for. They don’t have to be life-changing events or deep philosophical thoughts; sometimes we’re simply grateful for a hot cup of tea on a cold day or a hug from a loved one. The point is to simply acknowledge the things that make you smile and feel positive.

Plan something to look forward to every week. Whether it’s a coffee date with an old friend, a movie night with your significant other or a visit to an art exhibit, marking enjoyable activities on your calendar will help you move through the weeks with anticipation and excitement rather than counting down the days until spring!

Elizabeth Wiener is an educator who lives with depression and anxiety. Lisa Brookman is a clinical psychotherapist based in Montreal. Together, they form @wisewomencanada.

Originally Published in Best Health Canada