Defeating the Winter Blues

While debate exists over the cause and even the existence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), few doubt the impact of the dreary conditions of wintertime, especially those who live in areas with little sun in winter. For me, the term that best describes the blues that seem to hit in the dead of winter (December through February for the most part) is “doldrums.”

Doldrums

This term fits well for most who struggle with mood and energy during the winter months, about 12% of the population. Another 3% or so suffers true SAD , something I’ve also experienced. (Note: I migrated from SAD to the doldrums after finding victory over depression.)

10 Tips for Defeating the Winter Blues

Fortunately, much of what relieves the doldrums also helps with SAD (and depression too). So, for the sake of simplicity, let’s lump SAD and the doldrums into one category and call them the “winter blues.” However, realize that these exist along a continuum of severity. In most cases of SAD, there’s usually a significant biological reason (research shows that people with SAD produce significantly less seratonin in winter than in summer) that must be dealt with first with the help of a professional.

Based on my experience with the winter blues at almost every point along the continuum from SAD to a slight funk, I offer the following tips for defeating the winter blues.

  1. Move. Any activity beyond sitting or lying down positively impacts mood. This can mean a 10-minutes stretching routine, a 30-minute walk, cleaning the bathroom, or a quick trip to the grocery store. Just move!
  2. Budget. Money concerns, especially right after Christmas when the winter blues hit their peek, can drag even the most optimistic person down. Get some control by creating – and using – a budget.
  3. Breathe. I’m continually amazed at how just taking 10 deep breaths improves my outlook. Not only does it lessen my winter blues, but it helps me deal with stressful situations too.
  4. Eat. While eating your blues away is often a bad idea since it usually involves poor food choices, that doesn’t have to be the case. Instead, learn about healing foods that help lift mood and increase the “feel good” chemicals in your brain, and then purpose to get more of those consistently in your diet.
  5. Drink. Drinking more water is one of the two main activities that most quickly improve overall health. Whatever amount of water you’re drinking now, drink more. Hydration plays a huge role in virtually every bodily system.
  6. Sleep. Here’s the partner to drinking water. Establish a regular sleep/awake routine and stick to it year round. Figure out the amount of sleep that allows you to operate at your best, and get it consistently.
  7. Socialize. When I’m at a low point, I often avoid social interaction. Unfortunately, I avoid a terrific way to improve my mood when I do. We’ll cover this topic more in next week’s post, but let’s say for now that positive interaction with others does almost as much to improve mood as sleep and water.
  8. Simplify. This one took me years to truly establish as a life principle. Now, when I feel a funk setting in, which I know will grow into the doldrums if left unchecked, I look for ways to simplify.
  9. Supplement. Over the past 5 years, I’ve learned what supplements I need to operate optimally, especially mentally. A naturopath helped me get established, but now I do my own research & assessment. Start by learning the basic supplements everyone needs.
  10. Enjoy. Take time every day to enjoy simple pleasures from a hot bath and great music to a sunset and fresh air. Do this daily to help ward off the winter blues.

Hopefully you’ve gotten the idea there are a lot of ways to successfully battle the winter blues, and the more tools you have, the better. Yet, I have found that none truly help for the long term without the existence of one, specific focus always present in my life to motivate and drive me toward victory. I’ll let C.S. Lewis explain and close out this post.

Happiness quote

DISCUSSION: What tips do you have for gaining victory over the winter blues? What tips from the above list will you try this year? Any questions?

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29 thoughts on “Defeating the Winter Blues

  1. Great points Kari! Since my main activity is outdoors and done best during the summer, I do struggle with finding something to keep me occupied physically. Riding indoors can only do so much. I do lift weights, but even that has limits. So I have to find a diversion. I enjoy doing 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles. I pop in a DVD and puzzle away, sometimes I am there for hours without even realizing it.
    My recent post Breathing

    • Good example, Bill. My youngest does puzzles too in the winter. Beating the winter blues is one reason we set up a gym (treadmilll, elliptical, weights and tv) in our basement. \”Diversion\” is a great word for it because it implies a deliberate directing of focus away from feelings that drag us down.

  2. My wife and I can relate to this phenomena, years ago we lived in PA/NJ and the "winter blues" came as a result of the lack of blue skies and colors on the landscape. The gray days as we called the months of Jan to early Apr were depressing. Cars rolled down the road constantly caked with road salts and deicing chemicals. The pretty white snow never melted before turning gray and dingy. Activities were predominantly confined to indoors. Then we moved south 25 years ago to FL and now GA. The winter blues are much more tolerable, except for an occasional few days here or there. So locale makes a huge difference… of course, the mental challenges that befall most all of us after the holidays knows no boundaries as families shift gears back into school and work routines. And of course, the credit bills arrive for many that remind us of the cost of our holiday traditions.

    That said, your advice is spot on! Heck, we get to do it all over again in 10 short months! But as for me, in the meantime I'm ready for Spring and Summer, right around the corner.

    • Sunshine definitely makes a huge difference. I've heard a lot about using light therapy when you can't get the sunlight you need but haven't tried it yet. We definitely all fall prey to the winter blues to some extent, that is for sure. What's also for sure is that doing nothing to prevent or lessen it isn't the answer either. We may not always be able to totally erase it, but we certainly can find relief.

    • Me too! I take quite a few supplements, but the ones specifically related to mood are: Vitamin D (we need A LOT more than the RDA) and a B complex. I also take a multi-vitamin, a pro-biotic, COQ10, Calcium, Magnesium, some enzymes, and a few others. It sounds like a lot, but there's a specific reason behind my approach. While they all impact my mood in some way, the Vitamin D and B complex are essential for maintaining my mood. Oh, and quality of supplement is important too.

  3. I sit in brutal cold weather in northern Minnesota as I read this. Our daughter and family live about 70 miles from the Canada border so their summers are very short. Thank God we are only visiting because I have stayed chilled the whole two weeks we have been here and fought to even go outside for short periods of time. My daughter and family plays lots of games, do puzzles, snowmobile ride, go to basket ball games a lot, and occasionally go swimming in the hotel in their town. I think supplements would be a great added benefit and will mention that to my daughter. Good information Kari, thanks for the research. Hey blog friend, welcome to the New Year…looking forward to what the Lord gives you.

    • Sounds pretty much like the weather here today in SW Michigan. My kids are even home from school because of the temps being below zero. We play a lot of games too and like to watch movies together. Thanks, Betty!

  4. So glad you're writing about these tough topics!
    Seasonal blues (winter depression) is real.
    I know that when I don't see the sun for several days in a row I start to feel down. I NEED the sun. I enjoy the sun, even if it's too cold to really enjoy. Just seeing it peep through my windows brings me joy.

    I've found that wearing bright colors and having lots of lights on in the house helps when the cloudy days are piling up.

    • Helps me as much to write about them it does for those who read the tips. Your suggestions for bright colors and lights are good ones, especially because they are easy to implement. Thanks, TC.

  5. I am a SUNSHINE girl. We had so many clouds in November and December I was really getting down. A good sunny day really lifts my spirits, even though I know it means cold in Wisconsin. I find that sometimes just settling in with a good book and forgetting about all the rest of life can give me the break I need to refuel and get going again. Karen Kingsbury has been really inspiring to me lately,

  6. Hi Kari — Had to visit your site after reading your comments on TC's post today. Your words were so spot on! And your reminders on SAD are great, too. Recently Michael Hyatt noted that another way to banish the winter blues was by establishing some new goals and then pursuing them. And here is a post I wrote last year with a really yummy recipe that you might like that is full of brain boosting ingredients. Blessings to you this winter… http://sheilakimball.com/2014/02/04/when-apricots

    • Thanks for stopping by, Sheila! Also, thanks for the additional suggestion from Michael Hyatt. Having goals and pursuing them definitely does help during the SAD periods as well as just to get a jump start really at any time. Good to have goals of varying lengths and intensities too, don't you think? I appreciate the resources on your site also. I looked the post over briefly this morning and plan to go back there later today and look at it in more detail. I'm always looking for ideas to get a brain boost!

    • That's for sure, Dave. I just came back from having coffee with a friend, and although I still feel tired, I'm definitely more motivated just by getting out and connecting. Going to make sure and do this as much as I can during January and likely into February too. Once baseball & track start, getting out is much easier 🙂

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  8. Great tips, Kari! I live in San Diego, what's a winter? Just kidding, kinda:) When it is stormy or does rain I make sure to maintain my routine schedule, like eating healthy and working out. It allows me to be energized and motivated.

    • We definitely experience a different winter, that is for sure. Stormy & rainy days can bring out the blues and a funk too for sure though. And you are so right about the importance of maintaining a routine. That definitely helps me too, especially since I work from home. Great tip to add!

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  10. Kari, this is definitely a timely piece, as the winter blues came on a bit strong yesterday. I ended up taking my son on a walk around the mall for an hour, which goes back to your point about moving. Just changing scenery and getting some exercise helped me defeat yesterday's winter blues. Since the temperature should be in the 50's in Friday, I'm planning to hike a local trail. Just having a loose plan to look forward to can help, as well.

    • Good for you for not letting he blues linger and for doing something about them right away. That is important. And you are right about having a general plan of action; it really does help. Mine is having a home gym in my basement. Ah, the 50s. Sounds fabulous! It is currently 11 here 😐 Enjoy your weather enough for me too!

  11. I guess I can't complain too much about our 30 degree temps this week, then. 🙂 I hope you all get a break in the frigid weather soon.

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