In the darker, colder winter months, do you sometimes feel a bit off? Perhaps you’re lacking energy or motivation for tasks. Maybe you opt for staying in after work instead of making plans and leaving the house. This is commonly known as the “winter blues.”
“The winter blues can happen not only in the colder states, but even in the sunnier ones too,” says Chelsea Sobstyl, Life Time Work leader in Sandy Springs, Ga. “I’ve lived in New York, Florida, Colorado, and currently Georgia, and have experienced the lull of winter blues in all those places.”
Colder weather, shorter days, and the approaching holiday season all contribute to this emotional state, Sobstyl adds. “The holidays can bring a lot of joy, but they also can contribute to stress and anxiety. Having to plan or host events can be hard and some people who aren’t close to their family personally or geographically or who are grieving those who are no longer with us can feel extra blues. This can lead to a lonelier season during those months.”
Life Time Mind coach Barbara Powell, NBC-HWC, puts it this way: “The winter blues can show up as a lack of motivation, a sense of sluggishness, lower mood, sometimes a shorter fuse with others, and a dip in-day-to-day energy, all of which can affect your work and personal life.”
Why do winter blues exist?
We can feel that winter-blue lull in our day-to-day life due to a variety of reasons, including the following.
- Lack of movement. “Moving less tends to disrupt our overall mentality, ability to sleep well, and how we process our emotions,” explains Powell.
- Vitamin D deficiency. “During this time, due to less access to the natural resources of the sun in many places, our vitamin D intake is naturally less,” she says. “This affects our energy and mood, perhaps even resulting in disrupted sleep patterns.”
- The pattern of the day shifts. “The sun rises later in the morning and sets earlier at night, causing our circadian rhythms naturally to change along with it,” Powell explains. “Ask yourself, Are you shifting with the natural day time and nighttime shifts?”
- The seasonal change. Depending on your location, you may experience a more dramatic season change. The temperatures in some parts of the country range from 80 degrees F in the summer to negative 10 degrees F in the winter. “Even if the environment where someone lives doesn’t have a dip in temperatures and a true ‘four-season’ feel, there are adjustments happening all the time to mark changes in seasons,” she notes. “Can we notice these changes and their impact on our well-being?”
- Comparing yourself to others. “In the winter months, we might fall into the trap of comparing our holiday experiences, family time, New Year’s resolutions, assessment of how our previous year has gone, and so on with our peers,” Powell says. “This is really the thief of joy.”
How can we combat the winter blues?
- Shift with the pattern of the day. “Being mindful of my screen intake at night — less screens, more books or writing — and having a strong light source to awaken me in the morning — for example, a happy lamp — has greatly assisted me,” says Powell. “I also like to start my day with journaling or meditation.”
- Use a happy light. “Sun lamps can offset the lack of light and contribute to mood enhancement,” notes Brie Vortherms, MA, LMFT, director of Life Time Mind, the performance-coaching program for Life Time team members. “Try having it at your desk or on your bathroom counter while you’re getting ready in the morning.”
- Develop a healthy work-life balance. “One of the best practices for individuals who work from home is to separate your work life from your home life — especially during the winter,” says Sobstyl. “Disconnecting from work allows you to spend time with yourself or with your family. Combat the temptation to continue working past your typical working hours, if possible, because that can cause tension between you and your loved ones who want to spend quality time with you.”
- Implement comfort to your environment. “I’ve always loved the Danish concept of ‘hyyge,’ which means ‘comfort,’” notes Powell. “Winter allows me to accept and create comfort around me to support my well-being.” Consider adding elements of comfort to your workspace, such as a candle, a cozy blanket, a cup of tea, warm socks or slippers, or a rug. (For more on hygge, download the “18 Ways to Find Hygge” e-book.)
- Bring comfort to your mind. “The way I bring comfort to my mind is giving reassurance that I am where I need to be, that I am enough, and that moments of stillness are not a reflection of lacking, but rather are a necessary settling of my nervous system,” she adds.
- Take vitamin D supplements. When your body doesn’t receive a necessary vitamin naturally, taking supplements is a great option for prioritizing our health, no matter the season. “An increase in my vitamin D supplements has been helpful for me and I have had clients report the same,” says Powell.
- Prioritize movement. “Moving your body for even just 20 to 30 minutes a day can be a huge game-changer for your mental status, and can keep you active throughout the holiday season so getting back into your routine after the holidays is easier,” says Sobstyl. Those 20 to 30 minutes could be completed before your workday, over your lunch break, or after work. Prioritizing your exercise is essential, and scheduling your workout helps bring consistency to your regimen.
- Offer yourself breaks. “When working in the office, it’s important to give yourself breaks throughout the day, if possible,” she adds. “It’s easy to have a working lunch and use those 30 to 60 minutes to be and feel productive, but there is real value in being able to step away, grab something to eat, and take time to recharge in the middle of your day.”
- Choose gratitude. “I try to reroute any negative thoughts back to gratitude: who I am, what I have gained over the year, who or what supports me, what ‘gift’ I have received lately from a friend, partner, or coworker, and so on,” says Powell.
- Manage your stress. “Cortisol can disrupt our production of mood-enhancing brain chemicals,” Vortherms explains. “So, the better your stress is managed, the less likely you are to suffer from winter blues.”
- Check your thyroid. “Make sure your thyroid levels are balanced before heading into the fall and winter months,” she suggests. “An imbalance in these vital hormones can cause dramatic mood disturbances and is an easy thing to remedy with thyroid medication or diet change.”
- Monitor inflammation. “Some of the inflammatory cytokines can cause a huge disruption in our production of serotonin and dopamine,” Vortherms notes. “Omega-3s, particularly EPAs and fermented food, are both shown to reduce the specific types of inflammation that cause disruptions in our mood.”
- Take a cold shower. “The last thing I typically want to do during the cold months is turn the water temperature down,” she admits, “but it is almost guaranteed to increase our epinephrine and contribute to positive mood shifts!”