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  • Marla Vender, LCSW

Help for Seasonal Depression or Winter Blues

Updated: Dec 27, 2018


Winter can be especially rough for people in Chicago who suffer from depression. The winter blues are something many of us experience each year and if you’re already depressed, winter conditions here can deepen it. The short, freezing days keep people indoors more, inhibit activity, and increase isolation, which isn’t helpful if you’re feeling down. Per the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of seasonal depression in the winter are:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day

  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed

  • Having low energy

  • Having problems with sleeping

  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight

  • Feeling sluggish or agitated

  • Having difficulty concentrating

  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty

  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

  • Oversleeping

  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates

  • Weight gain

  • Tiredness or low energy (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651)

An article in The Atlantic by Linda Geddes, notes that the connection between the seasons and mood have been considered as far back as around 300 B.C.E, recorded in The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine. Scandinavian countries have been using giant mirrors, light therapy, and mindset to address seasonal depression, and some of the results are promising.

In Chicago, dawn is about 2 hours later than it was in the summertime, and this delay messes with our circadian rhythm. We also have a 41-42 percent chance of sunshine between November and January in Chicago, so it’s not always easy to get the sunlight we need to keep our body clock in sync. So what can we do? While doctors will offer antidepressants for Seasonal Affective Disorder, there are other things to try before filling a prescription.

  1. Get outside and into the sunlight first thing in the morning.

  2. Avoid simple carbs, sugar-filled foods, and caffeine after 2pm.

  3. Exercise

  4. Change your mindset: If you hate winter, and I don’t blame you if you do, adjust your attitude. There is definitely a different energy in winter, but it doesn’t have to be negative. Yes, it can be challenging to get around, but it’s not the end of the world so don’t treat it that way. You don’t have to love winter, but hating it doesn’t make it go away. Try to find something positive, or at least okay with winter if you want to battle seasonal depression.

  5. Get out of town to a sunnier, warmer place if you can.

  6. Look for humor and comedy. Laughter has no season and is good medicine.

  7. Consider bright light therapy. The recommended treatment is sitting 14 inches from a 10,000 LUX light for 15-30 minutes first thing in the morning. Before you consider purchasing a light box, be sure to consult with a professional who can recommend a regimen especially for your needs.

  8. Talk to a therapist, who can provide strategies for improving depression symptoms and help you find ways to manage your emotions, especially if they are affecting your health, relationships, school, or work.

To help change your mindset, think of winter as a necessary pause. It’s an opportunity to settle down a little, regroup, take time for some introspection, clean out your sock drawer, rearrange the furniture, paint your bedroom, bake bread, have friends over for soup, try a recipe that requires time and attention,catch up on reading, or to learn something new.




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