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5 Ways to Manage the Winter Blues

Dealing with shorter and dark days is difficult. These tips could help.

Key points

  • The winter blues can be managed and even avoided.
  • Be proactive and implement structure.
  • The Premak Principle may make your days a lot more fulfilling.

Sadly, this is the time of year when patient after patient begins to speak about the winter blues. Certainly, there are those who experience full-blown Major Depression with Seasonal Pattern—and if you are experiencing suicidality, hopelessness, and difficulty functioning, then please seek help immediately. But if you are simply under the weather and miss the long days with lots of light, then I can help you now. I'm speaking to people of all ages who start to feel blue when the sun begins to set earlier and days and nights begin to blend. We lose the ability to go for a run or even a walk after work because it gets dark so early. We are less likely to venture out after 4:30 PM because it is dark and it seems as if it is time to give up the day. We feel robbed of many hours of the day that were available to us just days or weeks earlier.

The coupling of the winter blues and Covid concerns is certainly not a happy one. So let's focus on what we can do during the coming months. Perhaps we can flip the script a bit and maybe even start to look forward to this time of year. Okay, that may be a stretch but I am trying hard to look at things in a positive manner and hope you will be inclined to do the same.

1. Be proactive. Set up daily activities to look forward to. We all need things to look forward to on a daily basis. Perhaps, you can consider waking up earlier and going for a walk while it is still light out. This can be both your private time and maybe even your escape time. You can listen to a podcast, an audiobook, or maybe just breathe and get ready for your day. If you are still working from home, you might even think about your walk as your daily commute to work. This is certainly a different and more uplifting way to think about things.

2. Develop a tight and very structured routine. Let's face it: We all do better with structure. It gives us a sense of control and during these times, we all need that, yes? Perhaps you might incorporate the Premak Principle into your daily routine. I use this all the time and it really helps. Reward yourself for getting an aversive task accomplished by rewarding yourself with a more desirable activity. I might, for example, repot my plants (an undesirable activity) and follow up by calling a fun friend (a more desirable activity). You might exercise for half an hour and then have a delicious cup of your favorite coffee. The list is endless. Be creative.

3. Consider this to be a time of year when you have more time for alternative activities. Exercise may look different during this time of the year. Instead of running, consider using indoor exercise equipment. Consider more weight training when you have less available time to run, walk, or go cycling outside. This may be a time of year to upload all of those books that you have been meaning to read, or catch up on all of those TV series that your friends are always talking about. I know at least one person who buys herself flowers every week only during the winter. Picking out flowers and displaying them is a source of joy for her. So, with this one small indulgence, this becomes a special time of year for her.

4. Save money. I hear this from so many: Winter is a time to put away money because people tend to go out less. Make a plan about what you are saving money for. I have my eye on a greenhouse. You may want to do home renovations after the winter. We all love accruing resources. If at all possible, consider this.

5. Take good care of your relationships. Use your time at home to stay in touch with friends. Reach out frequently and let people you care about know that you are thinking of them. Ask friends what they do during the winter that is uplifting for them. Your support system is so important. Take especially good care of it during this time of year. This is a win-win.