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The Psychological Impact of Winter and Mental Health

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a mental health condition that occurs due to seasonal changes. Learn healthy ways to cope with SAD.

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While the winter season usually begins with some holiday cheer, many people feel a bit "off" as the days become shorter and the temperatures drop. Maybe you're already familiar with the "winter blues," or you know a close friend or family member who experiences mental health concerns, like a lower mood or increased fatigue, around the holidays.


Sometimes, people experience mental health issues while adjusting to seasonal changes, like shorter days. Meanwhile, other people might experience more serious mental health problems that affect their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.


Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression, is a mental health condition that occurs due to seasonal changes, with most people experiencing SAD in the early fall or winter. Seasonal shifts, along with other factors—including your genetics and body chemistry—may affect your mental health.


Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Woman using a sparkler on a snowy winter day


The symptoms of depression can arise during any season, and depression can affect everyone differently. Some common symptoms of SAD include:


  • Experiencing a low mood most of the day
  • Losing interest in the activities you used to enjoy
  • Low energy, fatigue, or problems with sleeping (i.e., insomnia)
  • Changes in your appetite or weight
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide


If you're experiencing the symptoms of depression every day, or having thoughts of harming yourself, it's essential to seek mental health treatment from a licensed psychologist or counselor.


Research shows that talk therapy (psychotherapy) techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are effective treatments for depression. Working with a mental health professional can help you learn healthy ways to cope with SAD, navigate your mental health concerns, and start feeling better.


How To Beat the Winter Blues

If you tend to experience a lower mood during the winter season, it's important to pay extra attention to your physical and mental health. While it's easy to fall into unhealthy behaviors around the holidays, finding healthy ways to relieve stress and build resilience can make all the difference in your mental wellness.


Here are some tips to prioritize your mental health for a happy, healthy holiday season:


  • Get your body moving. Physical activity isn't just a great outlet for stress, but it can also improve your mental health by releasing endorphins, your body's natural "feel-good" hormones. Research shows that as little as 15 minutes of aerobic exercise is enough to release endorphins and boost your mood.
  • Eat a balanced diet. It might be challenging to make healthy choices during the holiday season, but try filling up on nutrient dense foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to maintain a balanced diet. There's nothing wrong with the occasional indulgence as long as you're incorporating healthy behaviors into your daily life.
  • Get enough sleep. It's easier to handle difficult tasks and pressure when your body feels good. Getting enough sleep each night can help you better cope with whatever life throws at you. To achieve restful sleep, try putting your phone away an hour before bed and avoid using your bed for anything but sleep.
  • Practice mindful thinking. Instead of pressuring yourself to "empty your mind"—a common mistake when first starting meditation—just pay attention to yourself, whether it's the rhythm of your breath or the thoughts in your head. Start incorporating five to 10 minutes of mindfulness into your schedule each day, and see where it leads.
  • Get sunlight whenever possible. Spending some time outside or opening your curtains can help boost your body's serotonin levels, which can help balance your mood. Sunlight can also brighten up the room and help you feel more awake. If you can't get enough sunlight during the day, artificial sources, such as a light box, can help.


Contact Us

Healthy lifestyle choices and social support can help you cope with depression symptoms, but they're not always enough. If you notice yourself experiencing sadness, anxiety, or mood swings, don't hesitate to reach out for professional mental health care.


Whether you're experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD), holiday stress, or panic attacks, we're here to help. At Charlie Health, our intensive outpatient program provides more support than once-a-week therapy sessions. We connect each client to a licensed mental health professional based on their unique mental health needs, preferences, background, and experiences to promote healing in a safe, supportive space. Our clinicians can answer any of your questions, help you gain insight into your mental health, and start your journey toward mental wellness.


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