Empowerment

How to Lose Those Winter Blues and Blahs

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When it’s cold outside we retreat like hibernating bears to our warm caves, except for necessary forays to the workplace and to gather food. Those caves can be awfully comforting when the weather outside is frightful, but indoor living can also lead to the blues or even depression. What to do?

How to Lose Those Winter Blues and Blahs

Need some motivation to get out of your cave?

The trick is to commit to doing something outside the cave. Something that you enjoy or care about enough to motivate you. Something that makes you want to get up and out of your cave and participate in the vibrant, real world. Here are some tried-and-true ways to fight back against that winter inertia and expand your mind/life at the same time:

  • Take a class: Find a seminar, talk or class in something that you’ve always wanted to explore. Jazz, female writers, movie making, screenplay writing, jewelry making. Take it seriously and it might lead to a whole new career. At the very least, you’ll meet people who share your interest and expand your social circle. If you’re in NYC, The Center for Social Innovation and the 92Y are both really good places to start looking.
How to Lose Those Winter Blues and Blahs

Take a class – learn a new skill and meet like-minded people

  • Volunteer: Local hospitals welcome volunteers to read to the elderly or children. Churches and community groups are eager to recruit people to help out in soup kitchens and take elderly folk to appointments. Animal shelters need help to walk dogs and socialize potential pets so they have a better chance at getting adopted. By helping others you will also be helping yourself, and the rosy glow of your cheeks will be matched by the rosy glow of your virtue.
  • Join a club: Doesn’t matter what kind – book club, knitting circle, music lovers, birders. Anything that you enjoy sufficiently to motivate you to leave your cozy cocoon. Being part of a group involves a commitment to that group, and the guilt about not showing up might be enough to propel you through the door of your cave. Or start a club in your own cave so you don’t even have to leave.
  • Be a temporary dog or cat owner: There are organizations that match volunteers with dogs and cats for various periods of time (called “fostering” – here’s more on that). This can also afford you the chance to find out if you would like to have a pet of your own, and meaningfully help out a local shelter. Research suggests that pet ownership leads to better mental and physical health, and the popularity of cat and dog videos on social media reveals how much all our hearts are opened by these furry beauties.
How to Lose Those Winter Blues and Blahs

Foster a cat or dog in need

  • Find a tai chi class: For those who can’t or don’t want to yoga, tai chi is a marvelously graceful, meditative form of exercise. And if you crave something more aggressive, tai chi has a martial arts side you can gravitate to.

And a few more just for fellow New Yorkers:

  • Explore NY: This wonderful city of NY has an ever-changing roster of events on offer daily, many of them free. Every Friday, the Weekend section of the New York Times lists a variety of things to do in all five boroughs. Concerts (rap, pop, classical – take your pick), movies, museums, comedy clubs, plays, walking tours – they’re all here. Arrange to do them with a friend so you don’t chicken out.
  • Check out the new Whitney Museum: It’s crammed with young and interesting looking people and the art is amazing. Then walk the High Line to see your city from a whole new perspective.
How to Lose Those Winter Blues and Blahs

Check out the Whitney, then take a walk on the High Line

  • Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge: Why? Why not? It’s a fun thing to do that many tourists enjoy but locals don’t think to experience. And Brooklyn Park at the other end is awesome. End up by taking the ferry back to Manhattan and see your city from the water. It will make you proud and happy that you live here.

When all else fails and the winter blues persist… Count your blessings, plan a spring trip, and remember what the poet said – “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

Frederica Pellman was born and raised in London, and educated at a private convent in Notting Hill Gate. She moved to the West Village, NYC with one of her sisters - they had no jobs, no contacts, no place to stay and virtually no money! After a brief but memorable stay at a hotel, they found jobs, friends and an apartment, and eventually husbands. She now she lives in Southampton and spends her time writing, walking, and working as a life coach.

59 Comments

  1. Cornelia Green

    I’m always taking vitamin D and Getting out of doors and out of my routine are particularly helpful for me.
    Thanks again for another great article!

  2. Esther Earl Harris

    These are all great ideas Frederica. I will surely bookmark this one! 🙂

  3. Elsie Spurlock

    Thank you for sharing this article. I’m certainly going to try your suggestions. I’ve been beating myself up over why I feel so low and out since the time change. So we have decided that my boyfriend and I are committing to walking after work. Also great to start a cozy evening together.

  4. Hazel Collins

    What a wonderful set of ideas, and lots of good and helpful advice.
    I see I’m not the only one who feels blue when it’s winter. I dislike winter, It’s even worse when you have health issues. I’m going to make new habits of engaging with my friends and family, and get outdoors more often.
    Thanks for this. 🙂

  5. Grace Stirling

    Great article. I’m one of those who do better with longer sunny days. I have found that the best treatment of all is to live in a sunnier area. Even a quick walk around the block is better than nothing.Thanks for posting this list! Very helpful, much appreciated.

  6. Helen Dark

    The best defense against feeling like the walls are closing in is to eat yummy food. I would also like to agree that a brisk walk will help the mind, body and spirit in the winter months. All great advice, and whatever it takes to boost the spirit I will try. Great article! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  7. Merry Robinson

    Thank you! Always love your articles. I usually gain more weight in the winter because I don’t even want to step outside. Looking outside it’s just foggy. I hate those dark grey days. I’m certainly going to try a few of your suggestions.

  8. Kimberly Vigil

    This post is helpful! I’m going to bookmark this too. I totally suffer from this. I try to take a walk any day the sun is out. I don’t mind if it’s cold as long as the sun is out, too many gray days really get me down. I must say, bundle up if it’s sunny out, go outside and take a walk then you will feel better! 🙂

  9. Along with the idea of wearing bright colors when it’s cold, I’m a firm believer of sporting cheerful umbrellas when it’s wet. Who decided black umbrellas were a good idea? My favorite umbrella is yellow with pink and green stripes.

  10. You have provided so many good examples of ‘diversion’ from the inward-focusing depression of winter. Thanks so much for validating what I have found works for me and I sincerely hope a lot of people benefit from your writing. Thanks for hrlp us keep smiling during the ‘dark times’, with your help and good advice! 🙂

  11. Lynn Hayes

    I get so depressed in the winter months. I felt like you must know me since you wrote this whole article that related 100% to what I’m going through. Thanks a bunch for the wonderful advice. 🙂

  12. Sibel Jenkinson

    I couldn’t agree more with you! This article is the best article on Winter blues I’ve ever read! Along with hanging out with friends, I agree that getting an animal, or spending more time with the animal you already have helps a lot. My dog has cured a lot of my depression. I have this amazing bond with him, and we take care of each other. My dog has changed my life since I rescued him from the pound. 🙂

  13. Pamela Sanabria

    Great blog and tips. Certainly helpful, but you didn’t mention one possible treatment for SAD. Cognitive Behavior Therapy has been found to be effective for the treatment of depression and seasonal affective depression. The treatment is usually short and has an additional benefit of preventing future bouts. 🙂

  14. Thanks so much for these tips. It’s definitely that time of year for me, I’ve gained more weight than I want to admit and am having a hard time feeling motivated to even get out of bed, let alone exercise! I will start by doing a few of these suggestions and see where that gets me 🙂

  15. Molly Twain

    This is a terrific article! Thank you for reminding me of all these great helpers when I get seasonal depressinon. Soo many choices! For me, my favorite is taking the snowshoes out on the local golf course. Did that this past Sunday for sixty minutes and it was exhilarating! 😀

  16. Diana Hewitt

    Overall, great suggestions! Finding time to walk outdoors when the sun is shining has always been a part of my winter strategy for staying up in the winter.. but not taking on more than I am able to accomplish is another. And celebrate the snow, if you live in a climate that supports snow – it reflects the available sunlight and improves your mood – get out and walk, ski, snowshoe, ice skate on a pond surrounded by snow – just make sure to protect your eyes from the reflected rays. 🙂

  17. I make sure I get outdoors every lunchtime, and I sign up to a term of dance classes. Because I’ve paid upfront, I feel more motivated to go than if it were a drop-in where you can say “I can’t be bothered”. This winter I’m learning Beginner’s Ballet and I love it. Gives me something to look forward to each week. I’m also eating like it’s summer – i.e. lots of fresh fruit & vegetables to keep my immunity and energy up. Have started a cheesy DVD exercise class once a week at work which has given other people a boost too.

  18. Matilda Parker

    It’s sad that exercise is so challenging this time of year. I mope at the mere thought of going out in below zero (F) weather but I do it anyway (around a frozen lake, 4 miles of ice-covered path) because it makes me feel THAT good. The runner’s high is like nothing else. I get back from a jog and the improvement in my mood is almost metaphysical. 🙂

  19. Jae Medina

    I used to have a roommate with SAD. She was also an artist and used to paint 6-foot tall paintings of her own “sad” face and plaster them on the available wall space. Imagine waking up to that every morning!!!! I was relieved when she moved out to California.

  20. Elin Hanks

    Re: Expending your social circle— especially in the winter, I find that it is helpful to try to get together with a few different groups of people on a regular basis. For example, my boyfriend and I will have dinner at his parents’ house once a week and have friends over for a casual dinner party once a month, and I’ll have a happy hour with coworkers every couple of weeks. With these regularly “scheduled” activities, the social calendar stays pretty full, preventing us from progressing too quickly through the ol’ Netflix queue.

  21. Samantha Anthony

    I’m right now really dreading the winter. Unfortunately for me, I live in an area where there is almost nothing to do after work and most people I know just aren’t into going out after working 8 hours. This winter I’m planning on trying a few new hobbies or expanding on others. Thanks for all the great advice. 🙂

  22. I’ve suffered from this for years and was never able to trick myself into feeling better. Last year finally went to my doc about it and he gave me a mild antidepressant that seemed to work good. It actually kept my mood better which made me feel like getting out and going to the gym, years before I would just turn into a hermit and stay in and the thought of doing anything made me depressed and not doing anything made me more depressed. So yes if all else fails go to a doctor, way better then beating yourself up for half of the year.

  23. Cassi Braun

    Amazing article! Well done 🙂 Chances are your friends are, if not diagnosably depressed, at least frustrated with the dark and cold as well. Planning Beat-the-Winter-Blues parties with themes gives everyone something to prepare for and be excited about, then do together, then gab about for a while after. Last winter my gang planned a pierogi-themed dinner, where every course involved pierogi in some way. We figured the comfort food and the company would do us all a solid. Pierogi chicken noodle soup. Pierogi lasagna. Pierogi-crust apple pie. Fruit pierogis. It was silly and fun and delicious. None of us were able to look at pierogis again for a few weeks, but that was ok because it gave us the boost we needed before we returned to our caves to sleep it off.

  24. Ayla Pennington

    Very glad to see a posting such as this. It is a very serious reality that everyone should not take lightly. Personally, I know I need to embrace a more active lifestyle. I sit at a desk all day at work, and then go home at night and sit in front of a TV or computer for the remainder of my day. I need to snap out of that!

  25. I love this article, Frederica! Because the sun is out less, and the time it is out is usually spent inside at work, etc. we do not get enough vitamin D, as the sun is our main source. I have found that taking vitamin D capsules really does wonders for fighting this disorder, and the like, much more than a ‘happy lamp’ ever could. I honestly would rather take your advice on going out more, than to depend on a lamp to make me feel better.

    • Sabrina Grattidge

      Agreed – Vitamin D is too often overlooked. I also believe that the oil containing high omega acids is important for mental clarity and mood. 🙂

  26. Kimberley Foulkes

    This is a good one, I suffer from this and didnt know it had a name until a co worker told me. My reply was ” you mean that same thing as that lady in the sad blue lit commercial?” ” yea you have s.a.d.s” I wanted to punch myself in the face for having something with such a *SAD* acronym, and being associated with an even sillier commercial LOL Thanks for the great tips! I’ll be sure to try each one and hope they help 🙂 xxo

  27. I absolutely agree with you Frederica! Thanks for writing this helpful article. With days being so cloudy over the winter, anytime I see the sun poke though I like to go outside and let the sunshine fall directly on my face, even if it’s for a couple minutes. I also like to take the ornaments off the Christmas tree at the beginning of January, but leave the tree itself and colored lights up till the beginning of February. If I can make it to Ground Hog Day, I can make it through the rest of winter. 😉

  28. Franny Pimms

    Amazing article, thank you. Very helpful!

    What I do: When it starts getting dark out when I wake up, I set a lamp in my room on a timer to turn on a couple minutes before my alarm. It helps to get up when it doesn’t feel like the middle of the night.

    In the dead of the winter when it’s dark on the way to and from work, I make a special attempt to go outside on weekends to get some natural light.

    There’s some evidence that a potential cause may be Vitiamin D deficiency due to lack of sunlight exposure. 1000UI Vitamin D tablets are inexpensive.

  29. Colleen Frasier

    You’ve made an incredible point about going out, and staying active, Frederica. Last winter, even during periods of heavy snow, I made it a point to get out and walk at least one lap around the track between classes. The shock of the cold weather was less noticeable to me, and having a time of complete quiet to myself left me ready to study until my brain fried. The alternative being, on days when I didn’t take a walk, I felt much snappier and tense. I also burnt out more quickly.

  30. Delilah Peyton

    I suffer from a pretty severe case of seasonal depression – it usually comes on after the new year, and doesn’t let up until April or so. Living in the Northeast definitely makes it harder to get enough natural light, and since I hate (participating in) outdoor winter sports, it’s sometimes a challenge to get motivated to get out of the house (2 feet of snow don’t help, either). Being a work-from-home mom makes it even more difficult. I find that when I’m kept busy (whether with social engagements or work), I’m much, much less likely to suffer from it. Good luck, everyone! 🙂

    • Home cardio equipment can be gotten VERY cheap on websites which sell secondhand stuff and Facebook groups. I’m sure as a stay-at-home mom you don’t often have the time or energy to use it but maybe having it around will help. I have an exercise bike I keep in front of the TV; I figure if it’s RIGHT THERE and i’m watching TV anyways at least sometimes I’ll be motivated to break a sweat while I’m doing it.

  31. Camila Hilhorst

    Hello, Frederica. I completely agree with your advice! I live in Rochester, NY, where winter is long and full of complaining by lots of people. I find the best way to beat the winter blues is to get into some outdoor activities. Last winter I played tons of pond hockey, got into cross-country skiing, and dabbled in some paddle tennis. Getting outside and embracing the weather instead of complaining about it makes a huge difference. 🙂

    • Betty O'Leary

      I’m with you on this. Frederica here is giving the right advice. 🙂 Living in Wisconsin, Winter Blues / Seasonal Depression is something difficult I have to deal with every year. The previous winter was a lot less stressful than years past for me due to several factors. I changed jobs and I am now a lot more active and get out and do things for my job, where my last job I was cooped up inside a data center for 12 hours a day, believe me, that is not the place to be for natural sunlight. Also getting outside and being more active and finding winter activities to do outside can help dramatically. I recently got into skiing and winter hiking. This keeps my mind busy, and although I still bitch about the cold, I just invested in some high end winter wear to keep me toasty outside. The bottom line is that you just need to get as much sunlight as possible and keep your work and personal life as stress free as possible.

  32. Olivia Peterson

    I unfortunately suffer from winter blues when the winter hits and I’m usually able to curb it with some Saint John’s Wort. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those “nature cures all” new age cases, but the mild mood stabilizing effects seem to do the job. 🙂

  33. I am speaking from experience here. I have been severely depressed for several months now, but I know exactly why I am. I had to see a psychologist even (unrelated), and he told me I needed to be on medication. Still though, I feel like taking meds would be “cheating.” It would be telling myself that I don’t know any better any more, I don’t know what SHOULD depress me and what shouldn’t. It is saying, yes, all this stuff is going on, but no, you don’t need to feel this way about it. If I do that I will lose track of how I should feel about anything…I will disconnect myself from my emotions, basically. And that’s where your article comes handy! You are giving tips and advice I couldn’t get from a professional! Thank you so much. Starting off today, I’ll try whichever ones that fits my schedule! I really appreciate this article. Thanks again.

  34. Shannon Bradley

    I’ve started taking vitamin D for the first time due to winter depression, and so far I’m feeling much better, and I’m much less tired. But I was adviced to do some things this article mentions, such as exploring the city, meeting new people, getting a pet etc. So far works ok. 🙂

  35. Julia MacLean

    Greatly helpful post. I had that last Monday, where I took the day off, and a little bit every day since. It’s difficult because I know if I make it to the afternoon my day will be fine. Feels an impossible thing in the morning though.

  36. I use a full spectrum lamp (now marketed as a ‘happy lamp’) each morning while I eat breakfast & read Urbanette. I take a fairly large daily dose of Vitamin D3 (all year, not just in winter, but I live in the far north). I eat more veggies and fruits than in spring & fall, so I don’t feel bogged down by the food. I get outside every day while it’s light. I go to the gym. I hope for lots of snow because the reflected light makes it seem less dark here.

    • Danielle Wilson

      Yes, it’s good to take your diet seriously. I think there are dozens of underlying conditions that can lead to depression and a horrible diet is one of them. There can be a “spiral” effect, where you can’t be bothered to prepare healthy meals. This may be crazy, but I think of the “Zen of meal preparation” – a form of meditation that takes the mind off of the destructive thoughts that go with depression. If possible, don’t let somebody else “feed you”, and do the cooking yourself. 🙂

  37. Thank you Frederica for this article. The last few days I’ve been feeling down and I really needed to read this. I usually feel anxious during the transiton from winter to spring but this time it’s come early. It’s also comforting to know that I’m not the only one.

  38. Celine Carter

    This is a great post, I especially love the suggestion about taking courses and classes. I live in Monterey and most of the year, we have a lot of fog and overcast skies. It’s incredibly dreary weather that can make it hard to stay positive and cheerful. So going out and socilasing and meeting new people is such a great idea.

  39. Monica CONOVER

    I’m so happy to see this article about this very real and scary experience called Winter Blues, which is actually a very heavy phase of depression due to seasonal change. Thanks for writing about it, Frederica. I’ll be sharing it on FB, and Twitter, and bookmarking it for myself.

  40. I love this!! Very helpful tips. Something to consider year-round. Not only during winter 🙂

  41. Heather Strobel

    Great article and so many choices! For me, my favorite is inviting my friends at my place to watch chick lit movies. Did that this past Saturday for a half day and it was awesome!

  42. Sarah Uibel

    I like the idea of checking out Thai Chi. Always seemed like such a relaxing and artful way to spend some down time : )

  43. Jenny Garett

    I still love to jog and go for a walk in the winter if it’s not too cold and if it’s a sunny day.

  44. Louise Stone

    Thanks for this article. I think drinking a nice,hot cup of coffee while listening to classical music would cheer me up and beat the winter blues.

  45. Carolyn Donovan

    Thank you for this article! It’s always important to look on the positive side of events 🙂 Indoor living caused by winter allows me to do my frustrations — baking! (I must admit I’m always looking forward to this because I prepare and purchase my ingredients weeks before… LOL)

  46. I agree! It’s best and really motivating to join a group during this “indoor living time.” It’s a great chance to expand your network and develop new and/or enhance your skills!

  47. Ashley Moore

    Thank you for this article. It’s a keeper to re-read. 🙂

  48. Haha… I do a lot of online shopping to beat winter blues!!! I don’t know but I really find this time as my only opportunity to shop, shop and shop!

  49. Gabby Williams

    I guess I’m one of the few who love winter season / indoor living! This is when I get to spend precious time with my children… They grow up so fast and I want to spend every possible intimate days and moments with them.

  50. Well, I just started volunteering to a community group’s activities to make my winter season worthwhile. I really hate indoor living and feel like I’m helpless, I always want to move… LOL

    • Francis Woods

      OMG!!! I feel you!!! I also feel bad when I’m just indoor. It makes me feel soooo helpless!!! What activities does the community group prepare for this year?!!!

  51. Well, I guess I’d be glad to say that I don’t experience winter blues! Probably because I’m really looking at winter breaks as opportunities to plan for future travel and adventure, making it very exciting 😉

  52. Sarah Evanston

    Mmmm… Being a cat or dog owner sounds like a good idea! Thanks for sharing the link where I can find more info about it.

  53. Yes!!! That’s what I usually do to beat winter blues — walk across Brooklyn Bridge!

  54. Hannah Mayers

    Yeah, I really want to visit the Whitney Museum and I agree, instead of allowing myself to experience winter blues, I’d do something new 🙂

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