How to Fight the Winter Blues

Many people report being down during winter, and their experience falls into three categories—all of them treatable. Let's call them the blahs, the blues, and winter depression (or SAD).

The Blahs

The holiday season often serves as a trigger for feeling down. Why are some people at their jolliest during the holidays, while others feel down? Bad memories of family get togethers are a common cause for holiday blahs, and so is undue stress when cold weather, crowds, and shopping conspire to put pressure on you.

If you feel blah, even after the holidays, it can be because stress accumulates over time and can have a lingering effect. Stress relief is key. We all tend to pay lip service to stress management, but we often simply put up with the daily pressures we take for granted. If your daily routine feels pressured, if you’re fatigued around 5 p.m., or need a drink to wind down, these are signs of stress. Other signs include irritability and a frantic sense of never having time to relax.

Relaxation is the opposite of stress, and you need it every day, meaning that there should be periods of down time, quiet time, and play time. For quiet time, meditation is the best option.

The Blues

Mild depression, or the blues, is the next stage after the blahs if you are feeling down in winter. "Mild" means that you still sleep somewhat normally and are not paralyzed by negative thoughts and memories. You don't need to diagnose yourself, however. Try the following remedies, and if they improve your blues, nothing else is needed:

  • Try to get as much natural sunlight as possible. Even a brief walk during lunch can be beneficial.
  • Make your work and home environments as light and airy as possible.
  • Sit near bright windows when you're indoors.
  • Take plenty of regular physical movement at least once an hour, meaning that you stand up, stretch, and walk around for a few minutes. Doing this outdoors at least once on a sunny day is best. Actual exercise is also good, but make sure it's something you enjoy, and don't exercise beyond the point of feeling moderately tired.
  • Eat at regular mealtimes. Don't snack. Make sure you eat natural whole foods as much as possible.
  • If possible, avoid stressful situations and take steps to manage and reduce pressure situations

Winter Depression 

The blues become more serious if you can't sleep, are haunted by negative thoughts, feel tired and listless all the time, and feel that your life is hopeless while you are helpless to change it. If you have SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, you will probably know it already. The condition has been widely publicized. There are popular treatments using light lamps, although natural sunlight is best. 

Medically, winter depression isn't really different from normal depression. Therefore, it needs a physician's care. Medication is often advised, but if you can, try talking to a therapist at the same time to explore talking therapy. One of the most effective is Cognitive Therapy, which aims to change your negative thoughts into more positive ones that are more realistic.

For example, a negative thought might be "Nothing good ever happens to me" or "Nothing I do helps." These thoughts are too absolute, and a therapist would get you to see that life is never this absolute. Good things have happened to you, and sometimes your actions are effective. Changing default negativity into realistic thinking has a direct effect on the brain, helping to set down new pathways of neural activity.

With these tips, and knowing if you have the blahs, the blues, or winter depression, will go a long way to making this winter a joyous season of rest and renewal. 


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About the Author

Deepak Chopra, M.D.

Co-Founder
Deepak Chopra, M.D., F.A.C.P., is the co-founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, the founder of the Chopra Foundation , and a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. He is board certified in internal medicine, endocrinology, and metabolism. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, and a clinical professor in the Family Medicine and Public Health Department at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of more than 85 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New...Read more