Winter Blues: What, Why, and How to Cope

Tips to prevent a mental health decline as temperatures drop.


Emma smith

How the winter is effecting us.

As the winter season approaches, so follows the dreams of a white Christmas, gingerbread men, and twinkling lights. Yet along with the nation’s expectations of holiday cheer come dwindling temperatures and shortened days–which often leave us feeling more blue than anticipated. 

Why does our mood fail to align with the spirit of the winter months? Some call it the “winter blues,” characterizing a decline in mental health as the year comes to a close. Multiple factors play into affecting our emotions, associated with the decrease in sunlight exposure. The resulting reduced intake of vitamin D inhibits the production of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters responsible for regulating mood (“Cold Weather and Anxiety”).

The emotional disruption caused by suppressed neurochemicals does not often pose as a long-term or serious threat. As the days lengthen and temperatures rise, your brain will rebalance with the increase of serotonin—the winter blues may simply be a natural decline in mood dependent on the weather. However, for some individuals struggling with mental illness, the wintertime may pose a serious threat to their health.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, characterized by depressive episodes specific to a certain time of the year, is more than just feeling blue—it interferes with a patient’s daily functioning (“Cold Weather and Anxiety”). Symptoms include a disinterest in previously enjoyed hobbies or activities, a change in sleeping or eating habits, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, and self-harming thoughts (Wu). In this case, it is necessary to ask for professional help from a counselor or psychiatrist to avoid jeopardizing your safety.

The cold weather may also intensify other mental disorders, including anxiety disorder, panic disorder, major depressive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder, among others. Be sure to look out for yourself and seek assistance if you notice new or increased symptoms.

How should you cultivate or prepare for a healthy state of mind during this winter? Exercise, healthy eating, and sufficient sleep are all conducive to serotonin and dopamine production (Wu). Consider practicing mindfulness: journal, meditate, breathe, or simply step back and sift through your thoughts (Krishnan). And it may feel vulnerable and anxiety-inducing to reveal the reality of our struggles—yet it can be more harmful to hold it in. Phone a friend, trusted adult, or counselor and let them know how you feel (“Cold Weather and Anxiety”).

In more serious cases, the use of light boxes may alleviate symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, according to the Harvard Medical School. M.D. Dominic Wu recommends purchasing a light box of 10,000 lux, usually marketed for the purpose of seasonal mood regulation, and turning it on for 30 minutes in the morning. 

As winter approaches, do not neglect caring for your mental health. Emotional well-being is often overlooked as negligible in comparison to physical well-being, yet the truth is that both equally impact our overall health. So don’t be afraid to bundle up, stay warm, and prioritize TLC for yourself and your mind.