Five Tricks to Beating Winter Depression

Does the cold, winter weather have you down?

Posted Jan 07, 2015

Happy mother and two children play outside in the snow

The days are getting shorter, the weather is getting colder, and you are getting more depressed. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a common, seasonal depression caused by the cold, dreary, dark months of winter. It is estimated that up to 3% of the population in the United States is diagnosed with SAD, while countless more suffer from winter depression symptoms. Moreover, many people that already suffer from year-round depression find that their symptoms worsen in winter. 

How do you know if you are suffering from the “winter blues”? Here are some of the main symptoms of SAD:

Excessive sleeping: You may find yourself sleeping more than 10 hours a day, and struggling to get out of bed.

Extreme fatigue: Whether or not you are getting enough sleep, you may be feeling extremely tired and lethargic. 

Difficulty concentrating: At work or at school, you may struggle to stay engaged with your work.

Weight gain: It’s common to crave warm, hearty foods during the winter. But if you are gain more than 5-10 lbs during the winter months, this may signal issues related to SAD.

Low motivation: You may find yourself unmotivated to leave your house, spend time with your friends, or make progress on your activities.

If you struggling with any of the above symptoms or are feeling especially down, you may be suffering from elements of Seasonal Affective Disorder. The good news is that there are proven ways to combat SAD and to regain hope and happiness despite the dreary weather! Here are some of the most common techniques used to overcome winter depression:

Light therapy: One of the most obvious causes of SAD is the decreased light available during the winter months. Although we unfortunately cannot control the sun, there are many effective artificial light therapy solutions. Consider investing in a light therapy lamp or box. Many experts believe that spending 20 minutes within three feet of a 300 watt bulb three times a day can drastically improve SAD symptoms. Other natural solutions include taking a walk outside on bright winter mornings, and also redesigning your indoor space to take advantage of any east-facing rooms in your house. 

Exercise: As with most types of depression, exercise can be a critical component of naturally balancing hormone levels and releasing mood-boosting chemicals into your system. Taking a brisk 20 minute walk, dancing to your favorite music, or spending time at the gym can all help protect you against SAD.

Eat well: Sweets and simple carbs, like rice, bread, and pasta, can all spike your insulin levels and send your system into a tailspin. These insulin spikes are never ideal, but they can also negatively affect your mood level. When those sugar and carb cravings strike, reach instead for a piece of fruit or foods that are high in protein and good fats. This will curb your craving, and also provide your brain the nourishment to keep your body healthy, stable, and happy. 

Take vitamins: In many cases, our bodies do not receive the nutrients we need by eating food or spending limited time outside. Nutrients that can directly affect our happiness levels during the winter months include omega 3s, B vitamins, and vitamin D. Try supplementing your diet with these nutritional supplements, especially during winter months.

Take a trip: Migratory birds have something figured out! If you are really struggling to overcome SAD and winter depression, it may be worth planning a trip to a warm, sunny place. This will give you a healthy dose of sunshine, and is a great excuse for a mid-winter getaway.

Gregory L. Jantz, PhD is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and an internationally recognized best selling author of 28 books related to mental wellness and holistic recovery treatment.