McFarland Clinic

Winter Blues: Causes, Signs and Strategies to Cope

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January 20, 2020

A teenage boy looks sad

Colder weather and shorter days of sunlight can change people’s moods, leading to what is sometimes called the winter blues. Read about these strategies to cope or to relieve the effects of the changing seasons.

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What Are the Winter Blues?

The winter blues can occur as a seasonal pattern, usually beginning in the fall and continuing through the winter months. Winter blues are usually triggered by lack of sunlight and colder temperatures.

“The time of darker days, and waiting for light and the spring can be useful for reflection and re-evaluating your life’s direction,” said McFarland Clinic Behavioral Medicine provider Lisa Barnes, LISW. “It’s when the reflections turn into stubborn unhappiness, social isolation, or increased alcohol use that seeking help may be needed.”

Signs & Symptoms of the Winter Blues

  • Depression

  • Low energy

  • Lost interest in activities once enjoyed

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Problems with sleep

  • Changes in appetite or weight

  • Irritability

  • Increased alcohol use

Coping with the Winter Blues

Relieving or coping with the winter blues is different for everyone, from creating social support to practicing relaxation. Just doing something that brings someone joy can make a difference. 

“Going to a music concert may stir someone’s soul,” Barnes said, “just as reading a good book or knitting in a group at the library may feel warmly satisfying to another person.”

Another method to relieve the winter blues is to look for the joy in the season and appreciate the present moment. By celebrating what is happening now, you are able to be present and enjoy time now. It’s possible to design what you can do to impact your experience and make it positive. Enjoy the winter season by building a snowman or going to a coffee shop with a friend for a warm beverage.

Create social support by nurturing current friendships and developing new ones. Meet people who share your same interests and values. These people can contribute to your positive life experiences. 

“Join an organization that inspires you to grow in a positive way, contributes to the lives of others, and nourishes your spirit,” Barnes said. 

There are many ways to practice relaxation. The first way is to notice where your body holds tension and to release it. Visualize yourself breathing in healing energy and exhaling tension. Other methods of relaxation can include taking a warm bath, playing with your pet, listening to music, drinking tea or hot chocolate, and looking at a calming color or picture.

Preventing the Winter Blues

There are strategies to prevent the winter blues before the colder season begins. 

  • Begin using a Lightbox at the start of the fall season.

  • Spend time outside every day, even if it is cloudy.

  • Eat a well-balanced diet.

  • Try exercising for 30 minutes a day, 3 times a week.

  • Stay involved with your social circle and regular activities.

  • Speak with a mental health professional.

  • Talk to your provider about their recommendations for you.

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