Why Winter May Impact Your Mental Health
For some people, depression gets worse at certain times of the year. This may seem unusual, especially if you’ve never noticed how your surroundings and environment affect your mood before. But worsening depression, especially when it sets in during winter, is more common than a lot of people realize. Someone reached out to us recently about this:
“My depression is a lot worse in wintertime, and I can’t figure out why. My routine is the same year-round, so I’m not sure what to do differently. Do you have any idea why I’m feeling depressed more often when it’s cold outside?”
This is a good question. On the surface, it may be hard to see why depression gets worse in one season than in another. But when we do a little digging, some possibilities emerge. If you have seasonal depression triggers, recognizing them can help you feel more prepared and find more ways to cope.
There are a few reasons why you might feel more depressed during the winter months. But there is always something you can do, there is always hope, and support is always available. And you’re definitely not alone in what you’re feeling or experiencing right now. I hope this gives you some suggestions for how to manage winter depression and helps you feel more hopeful and optimistic for the days ahead.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal affective disorder has many symptoms in common with depression: things like low mood, difficulty sleeping, weight and appetite control issues, or fatigue are common.
What makes SAD unique, though, is being a type of depression that is weather-dependent. It affects people during winter months or during cold weather, which may not always occur in winter, depending on where in the world you live.
Doctors and scientists are still studying the causes, impact, and treatment of SAD, so no one is 100% sure why people experience it. But if you notice you’re feeling depressed more often or more severely when it’s cold and grey outside, it may be something you want to talk to your doctor or therapist about.
Lack of Sunlight
It’s often greyer during the day during winter, and it gets dark earlier in the day. This lack of natural light has been linked to feeling more deeply depressed, or feeling depression more frequently, for many people.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do to change the seasonal rhythms of light and dark. But it might be helpful to:
- Get an indoor lamp that mimics natural lighting.
- Keep the curtains open as often as you can to bring as much natural light into your space as possible.
- Try finding the beauty in winter. Winter weather can create beautiful landscapes for us to enjoy, and there are many fascinating things that happen in nature during the winter. Taking some time to admire winter scenery, or to learn about how plants and animals behave during winter, may help you to think of winter as something more natural, than as something sad or negative.
Cold can make our bodies feel tense. If you live in a bitterly cold area, cold wind might hurt or chap your face and hands. Your body may start to ache if you have to be in the cold for a while on a given day. And it’s natural for this discomfort in your body to affect your mood, too.
Here are some things you can try if cold weather is getting you down:
- Gentle stretching or movement throughout the day can boost your mood, and the increased blood flow that comes with physical activity will help you feel warmer.
- Warm blankets are cozy and comforting. If you’re feeling especially down on a cold day, try snuggling up in a warm blanket to watch your favorite show, listen to some of your favorite music, or read a book you enjoy.
These simple things may help lift your spirits and may make it easier to find the good in your life when it’s cold and dreary outside.
Many of the activities you like to do might not be possible for stretches of time during winter. School might be out for break or closed due to the weather. Sports or outdoor exercise gets more difficult to do frequently. And snow, sleet, or ice storms may prevent you from being able to leave the house to be with friends and family or to spend time at places you enjoy. This might explain why winter might make you feel isolated or experience loneliness more often than usual, which could worsen your experience of depression.
It’s natural to feel this way. It’s just your mind’s way of reminding you how much you enjoy life.
Sense of Ending or Loss
Winter starts at the end of a year. The sense of things coming to an end or winding down may make you feel a greater sense of depression. You could be saddened by the leaves falling from the trees. Winter could be reminding you of what you lost or missed out on throughout the year, and it can be difficult to come to terms with the fact that we can’t get our time back once it passes.
When you feel this way, it may be helpful to shift your mindset a bit. Along with being sad about the year coming to an end, can you think of what you are grateful for about this past year? Did you accomplish something new? Did you make new friends?
Focusing on gratitude, even just a little bit each day, can help make coping with seasonal depression easier.
It may also help to look forward. When you think about the future, try thinking of it as being full of possibilities to try new things and to grow as a person.
You were created with a purpose, and that doesn’t end with the ending of a year or change with the weather. God’s love for you is unconditional, and He has plans to give you hope and a future (Jer 29:11). Remembering that God’s love and your purpose don’t change with the seasons can help you get through some of winter’s tougher days.
Getting Help for Winter Depression
Sometimes, no matter what you try, you still feel bogged down by depression. If you’re feeling more depressed in winter and not sure where to turn, help is available right here, right now.
You can talk to a HopeCoach by chat or email for supportive mentoring and a greater sense of connection with others. We are here for you, and we are ready to support you through this time. Together, we can get through a harsh or difficult season of life.
Depression is common, more than just feeling down and most importantly, depression is treatable. Click here for more insights on healing and depression.