Beat the Winter Blues

Posted on December 4, 2023

Contributed by Jennifer Beam, MHSc, RDN, LDN

Are you familiar with the light feeling of sadness that comes with shorter daylight periods in the winter months or excessive stress during the holiday season? This is often called the “winter blues.”
Although the winter blues is not a diagnosable depression-linked disorder, it is associated with seasonal affective disorder, which is such a disorder according to the National Institute of Health.1

The winter blues have similar symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, such as feeling less than your usual self, down, and lethargic.2 You could have more serious symptoms such as severe depression, changes in weight and dietary patterns, personality changes where you don’t like doing the things you used to do, or having a hard time concentrating. About 10-20%  of Americans experience the winter blues.4 The good news is that there are small changes you can make during the winter months that can help curb these symptoms.3,4,5

  1. Stay Physically Active. Exercise has been proven to help to decrease depressive moods. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of physical activity accomplished each week. It can be as simple as a brisk walk. 
  2. Incorporate Light Therapy. During the winter months, it can feel like you may never get to enjoy the sun because it is dark when you go to work and it is dark when you get home from work. Incorporating light therapy, such as getting a light alarm clock or a light orb, has been shown to help curb the effects of this by helping to boost serotonin levels in the brain.
  3. Routine, Routine, Routine. Whatever your routine may be, stick to it. For example, if you wake up at 5 am for work Monday through Friday, continue waking up at 5 am on both weekend days, too. Additionally, make sure to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
  4. Make Healthy Food Choices. The winter blues may make you crave carbohydrates and snack foods more often. A great way to curb this is to incorporate our favorite lean meats, seafood, fruits, and vegetables into a meal that feels hearty for the winter weather. 
  5. Do What Makes YOU Happy. Remember to always do the things that bring you joy. Keeping the winter blues at bay has been shown to occur from having something to look forward to as it can improve your mood. This could look like spending time with friends and family, walking your pet, starting a new book, exercising, cooking from scratch, coloring—whatever it may be.
  6. Help is OK. The winter blues may become overwhelming. There is NO shame in asking for help when you need it. If your thoughts are becoming dark and feel heavy, reach out to your doctor or health insurance company. They can direct you to a therapist or psychologist who will be able to listen to you and help you on a cognitive level that your friends and family may not be able to.

If you struggle with this, you can beat the winter blues! Seasonal sadness doesn’t have to occur each year. Utilizing the steps above can help you curb the potential mental health effects of the winter months. As you are trialing these suggestions, remember to be kind to yourself; a gentle reminder to yourself about only being human can go a long way. Mount Everest wasn’t climbed without trial and error.


About the Author

Jennifer is a Registered Dietitian for Whitsons serving at Easton Area School District. She has worked in various sectors of dietetics, including clinical, community, and food service since becoming a dietitian. Jennifer obtained her Master’s Degree and completed her internship with Cedar Crest College. She enjoys cooking, baking, pottery, and being physically fit through various outdoor activities.

1. National Institute of Health. 2013
2. Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. 2019.
3. Vann, M. 2022.
4. Cleveland Clinic. 2022
5. NHS Inform. 2023
6. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021