Tips to Beating the “Winter Blues”

January and February can be a challenging time of year. We’ve just come out of the holiday season (which could have been fantastic or challenging or both!) and the skies are typically gray and cloudy. We reached out to our friends at White Stone Counseling for ideas on how to combat the so-called “winter blues”. 

As mental health professionals, do you see a spike or difference in clients’ sadness levels in the winter that is different from other times of the year?

Not everyone we work with experiences a spike in sadness in the winter, but it’s not uncommon at all. This time of year is particularly challenging for a number of reasons. We are recovering from the holidays in one way or another. Days are shorter, weather is colder, and we are settling in for the long haul of Chicagoland winter. The holiday season has a way of heightening both positive and negative emotional experiences and bringing families together that don’t necessarily bring out the best in each other.

These factors bring a potential for a spike in all sorts of symptoms and pain points. Across the board we do tend to see some differences, but it is important to remember that everyone’s emotional landscape is diverse. Though we are all made in God’s image, He also made each and every one of us uniquely. Some may feel the impact of the winter months more intensely, while others might not experience significant changes at all. The most important thing is to know yourself and accept that self-awareness. As we read in Scripture, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). If you are feeling more sadness or loneliness, it’s time to put some healthy self-care into practice! And if that doesn’t make the changes you’re looking for, make sure to ask for help.

How would you define what lay people call “winter blues”? How might it differ from other forms of sadness or depression?

The “winter blues” is essentially a seasonal mood shift that many people experience when the days get shorter and sunlight decreases. It’s a transient dip in mood, linked to external factors like reduced sunlight and spending more time indoors during colder months. Ecclesiastes chapter 3 tells us, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” It’s easy to know that in a theoretical way, but when we are feeling sad, isolated, and the days are cold and short it sometimes feels like that season won’t end.

Distinguishing it from other forms of sadness or depression involves considering the temporary nature of the “winter blues” compared to the more persistent and deep-rooted nature of ongoing emotional struggles. The “winter blues” tends to be tied to factors outside of us and has a shorter duration, while other forms of sadness or depression have a more prolonged and impactful presence. Some may even experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of clinical depression that ebbs and flows more in line with the seasons than anything else. The hardest months according to the American Psychiatric Association are January and February. Wise people, according to the book of Proverbs, “give thought to their ways” (Proverbs 14:8). Take stock of how the winter months affect you and plan accordingly so that you don’t suffer needlessly.

Are emotions other than sadness (e,g anger, anxiety) heightened during the holiday season?

Holidays bring so much to the surface! You might notice an uptick in not just joy but also things like anxiety or even frustration. The holiday hustle and bustle, combined with expectations and sometimes family dynamics, can stir up a cocktail of emotions. Emotions beyond just sadness can indeed experience a surge during the holiday season and beyond. And it isn’t uncommon for negative feelings to flock together. Those experiencing grief, especially new grief, tend to have a very difficult time of year during and after the holidays. It can be a bit like having a full orchestra of feelings, each playing its own tune during this time of the year.

Remember, God cares about you. ALL of you. Even the messy parts. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Different people may experience it differently; some might feel a heightened sense of excitement, while others might find themselves wrestling with increased stress or anxiety. It’s a reminder that the holiday season isn’t one-size-fits-all emotionally. The thing we have most in common is that it’s complex, layered, and dynamic. That doesn’t mean it’s always bad, but it’s an invitation to take extra care of yourself and be more intentional than you might otherwise be.

When experiencing sadness, when should folks who are not currently in counseling seriously consider seeking professional help?

When it comes to sadness, considering professional help becomes crucial when it starts feeling like the sadness is around for an extended stay. If the blues linger, impacting your daily life, relationships, or work for a significant stretch, it’s a signal to reach out for extra support. It’s a bit like when your car starts making a weird sound – you wouldn’t wait until it breaks down completely. If it persists or causes problems, you get it checked out.

Other signs could include feeling overwhelmed, changes in sleep or appetite, or if the sadness starts affecting your ability to enjoy things you used to. Seeking professional help is like calling a skilled mechanic when you sense something’s not quite right with your emotional engine – we have the tools and know-how to help you navigate and get things back on track.

We have a tendency to think we “should” be able to handle things by ourselves. Remember that even Jesus surrounded himself with many helpers and received care when he needed it. He is the model we ought to follow.

Finally, how could “normal” winter blues be addressed?

Addressing the “normal” winter blues often involves cultivating healthy self-care habits to navigate the seasonal emotional landscape. It’s like tending to your emotional well-being as you would care for a garden. Embracing a routine that prioritizes adequate sleep, regular physical activity, and nourishing meals is like planting seeds of resilience against the winter blues. Incorporating activities that bring joy and relaxation, whether it’s reading a good book, practicing prayer and mindfulness, or engaging in a favorite hobby, is like providing the proper nutrients to your emotional garden. Additionally, getting outside, even in the crisp winter air, and taking in natural light can contribute to a brighter mood. This is harder to do in winter months, but it’s all the more important to make the investment.

Connecting with God is especially important in a season of difficulty or introversion (which winter often is). What are your prayer practices and spiritual disciplines right now? Should they be adjusted to account for the differences of wintertime? What can help you develop the “good soil” that leads you to be more open and available to the Lord?

Connecting with others and maintaining social bonds can act as a powerful antidote to the winter blues, too. Being made in God’s image means we are designed to be in relationship. Fostering connections with others can provide a support network that withstands seasonal shifts. Additionally, stepping outside of your usual routine can be a game-changer. Consider lending a helping hand to others, which can break the cycle of internal focus. Volunteering with organizations like Love INC, can be meaningful and fulfilling. Serving others not only benefits the community but also lifts your spirits, providing a meaningful perspective shift during the winter blues. It’s about finding a balance that suits your unique needs. Creating a self-care routine and inviting others into your life allows you to weather the seasonal changes with resilience and well-being.

Where can I find trusted self-care resources?

White Stone Counseling offers a free 21 day gratitude journal to help refocus your perspective – sign up here. You can also sign up for their regular newsletters to receive on-going resources here.

Follow their recommendation and volunteer your many skills at Love INC! Our many opportunities are listed here and upcoming volunteer orientations are found on our calendar.

About White Stone Counseling

White Stone Counseling is a ministry that offers a distinctively Christian approach to professional counseling. Our mission is to help you find healing, build stronger relationships, and renew your faith.

We are devoted to serving the Church. Our connection with local congregations has provided us with the privilege of joining God in touching the lives of hurting individuals and families for over 25 years. White Stone offers Individual, Marital, and Family Christian Counseling services to adults, adolescents, and children. We also provide topical teaching, workshops, consultation, and staff training to our partner churches.