Winter Blues

Locals Share Ways to Make the Most of Darker, Colder Season

Alicja Carter
December 19, 2023 / 5 mins read

In October, I was doing a wellness check-in with some of our Gateway Staff. One individual mentioned that she was a little concerned about the inevitable colder weather, decreased sunlight, and business of the holiday season which could have a negative impact on her mind, mood, and physical body. Her sentiments were met with mutual understanding from the group. This seemingly common experience made me want to research Seasonal Affective Disorder as well as what local community members are doing to move through their winter blues.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression also known as SAD, seasonal depression or winter depression. SAD has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter. As seasons change, people experience a shift in their biological internal clock or circadian rhythm that can cause them to be out of step with their daily schedule.”

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) impacts 5% of the adult population. Another 10% of people may suffer from subsyndromal SAD, in which they experience symptoms when seasons change but do not meet the criteria for clinical depression. Symptoms may be experienced for up to 40% of the year, with January and February often being the most difficult. Researchers believe that rates of SAD are about 3x as high in women as in men. Women who tend to have more premenstrual mood changes are more likely to develop SAD, and vice versa. Individuals experiencing a considerable amount of stress may also be more susceptible to SAD.

SAD typically starts when a person is between the ages of 18-30 and can affect all people groups. It is more common in people living far from the equator, which is why its rates are higher in the northern part of the U.S. and Canada and lower in the south (Rachel Treisman, 2023, Winter is coming. ‘Here’s how to spot-and treat-signs of seasonal depression’, NPR’s Morning Edition, 4 November)

According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD symptoms can vary from mild to severe and include fatigue, increased cravings for carbohydrates, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, and feeling sad, disinterested, or purposeless.

Below are suggestions for treating such symptoms (American Psychiatric Association, “5 Tips to Beat the ‘Winter Blues’”, YouTube, 1 December 2022,

  • Take in as much light as possible. This could include opening your window shades or curtains, being outside in the daylight hours, adding extra lamps to your work or living space, replacing light bulbs with blue LED lights, or even sitting in front of a light therapy box for about 20 minutes per day first thing every morning.
  • Create a daily schedule for yourself. While you still need sleep, it can be beneficial to connect to a routine that may include taking a shower, enjoying a hobby, tidying up around the house, catching up with a friend, or even taking a walk. This helps sleep to be a time of restoration rather than avoidance.
  • Take 10 minutes a day to move your body. Whether it's walking, stretching, dancing, shoveling snow, or playing with kiddos, movement reduces anxiety, depression, and negative moods as well as improves self-esteem, a feeling of connection, and brain function. (National Institutes of Health)
  • Stay connected to your people. You may want to schedule regular check-ins with your friends, co-workers, support group members, or therapist. This way you aren’t waiting until you “feel like it” to engage in social connection. Even going to a work out class, meeting, or grocery store can be a way to fill your cup before going back home to snuggle under your blankets.
  • Consult your doctor to see if they recommend Vitamin D supplements or possibly antidepressant medications. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) are most commonly used to treat SAD.

Although the winter blues may be inevitable, you can take small steps, like the ones mentioned above, to help you find some balance and to keep from sinking too low. Below, local community members share their challenges, coping skills, and what they’ve learned to avoid during this changing season.

Lisa Watson shares, “My challenge during this season are the memorable holidays which make me miss my mom more often. I still smile, but I think of her even more during these times. Things that help me cope are talking with my core group of friends to share my feelings, decorating with a lot of my mom’s favorite items, helping others, and creating memories with my family (just like my mom did). I try to stay away from slow and sad songs.”

Lancia Berglan shares, “I really hate winter. I hate being stuck inside for several months in a row. To cope, I like to bring the outside in with pine branches or wreaths (even faux), a little rosemary tree, and real wood burning in the fireplace. Also, I love sitting in my living room with lowered lights in the evening, watching the fireplace burn and seeing the lights from my Christmas tree or on the mantel. I have just decided that taking my Christmas tree down right after Christmas is not for me. I leave it up and enjoy it through the dreary month of January.”

Misty Wells shares, “I have hypothyroidism, so cold intolerance is definitely a thing. Since winter weather keeps me indoors more, I read a lot, go to the gym, and talk to friends on the phone versus in person. I also try to get outside as much as possible on nicer days. I have noticed that too much TV time gets really boring. I need interaction with others.”

Teri Sigman shares, “Gloomy, cold, dreary winter days can get me depressed. I have found that my staying active by working out makes me feel so much better! Whether it’s Zumba, boot camp, step aerobics, or anything else that I enjoy, I make myself go and I am always so glad that I did. Plus, it helps me to see and visit with others which always puts a smile on my face.”

Glenda Kerbo shares, “Winter causes more aches (arthritis). I try to embrace all seasons. I love the chance to catch up on reading and all the to-do lists around home, such as cleaning out closets and drawers. I also use the time to get in touch with being creative, painting furniture, and exploring ways to repurpose items. Ken and I take day trips when the weather allows, just like we do in other seasons.”

Dee Dee Morrison shares, “I am not a fan of winter time. For as long as I can remember, winter has always been depressing for me. It’s cold, gets dark too early, and lacks color. I’ve noticed that I tend to be more emotional, eat more junk food, and sleep more in the daytime. To cope, I continue telling myself that it’s only for a few more months and then warmer weather will come back and life will be good again. Until then, I just have to get up and keep moving and functioning. When the sun comes out, I take full advantage of it.”

Samantha Smith shares, “The cold weather and less sunlight during the days are a challenge for me, especially since the cold makes my body ache. I cope by focusing on the holidays and the extra time I get with my friends and family since I’m off work extra days for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I also like to make fires, complain about the cold, and take in the Christmas lights and decor to lift my spirits. It is not helpful when people are overly happy about the freezing temperatures and try to encourage me by suggesting I bundle up. Even when I am bundled up, I am cold and in pain, so the lack of understanding from those who aren’t affected by this weather so negatively thinking it’s an easy fix is frustrating.”

Valorie Martin shares, “The time change in the fall was always so hard on me, especially since I never had it growing up in sunny California. It would be nice if the sunlight lasted longer at the end of the day. The dark, cold days have put me into such a deep slumber. I think I'm part momma bear wanting to hibernate. To cope, I listen to very uplifting music and work very hard to wake up early (even though I am not a morning person) and stick to a routine, generally getting out of the door by 10am. Finally, going to bed earlier helps me adjust to the earlier mornings."

Leslie Jo Coots shares, “The early sunset makes me feel like I need to go home and put on my pajamas by 5:30pm. It’s dark when I wake up and dark when I drive home! To cope, I go straight to the gym after work, remember that I am not alone in my struggles this time of year, and use my light lamp that plugs into my computer. I also turn on more lighting around me to brighten everything up and turn on upbeat music at home and at the office.”

Holly Gordon shares, “My challenges this time of year include shorter days, cold and rainy weather, and gray days with little sunshine. The things I find helpful include: a heating pad, happy light, weighted blanket, cups of hot tea, lit or LED candles, lamps instead of overhead lights, hot baths or showers, the fireplace or putting a YouTube “fireplace” on the tv, fuzzy socks, playing music, listening to an audiobook, crocheted or knitted scarves/mittens/shawls, wearing slippers indoors, getting super cozy and Hygge. The things I find to be helpful include: drafts in the house, a busy day of appointments where I have to go in and out of the building/house, and trying to force myself through the moment. I have learned that it’s better for me to pause and take care of myself."

If you need additional support this winter season, do not hesitate to text or call 988. You can call if you are feeling sad, down, scared, worried, or even lonely. You can also reach out if you are in a mental health crisis and need immediate support. A trained professional is on the other end of the line ready and waiting to connect with you. You are also more than welcome to contact Gateway to Prevention and Recovery at 273-1170 x0.

A special thank you to those that took time to share their experience and offer solutions. It is always good to know that we are not alone and that there is hope.