Winter Blues and Blahs

By Dr. Cecilia Marshall, CareNet Counseling, Winston-Salem

It seems that every other creature on earth has a way of coping with winter:  bears hibernate;  birds migrate; squirrels  store up nuts.  What’s a human being supposed to do?

Responses to the winter months  can range from simple “cabin fever” to a type of depression known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).  The majority of people will not suffer SAD but may still affected by the change in season.  Adults may become lethargic, irritable or may over-eat.  Children can become irritable but may actually increase their activity levels  (Ask any teacher what the class is like after a week without recess!).

Get an Attitude

It all starts with attitude. Many words associated with winter have a negative cultural context:  long . . . dark . . . cold.  Dreading winter actually extends the season by anticipating it long before it arrives!  Instead of dreading winter, make some plans to “get into it.”

Let the Sun Shine

When  the sun shines, try to grab a few rays if at all possible.  Even a brief noontime stroll can lift your spirits.

When  there’s no sun outside, bring some sunshine into your life in other ways.  Bright, cheerful colors can help lift spirits, too.  Grab a bouquet of inexpensive flowers when you visit the grocery store.  Use bandanas as napkins or placemats to add color to your family’s table.  Toss an inexpensive pillow or throw on your couch.  Frame a child’s artwork and place it in a spot that needs cheer.

Get Moving

The research is clear on the positive relationship between exercise and wellness (both mental and physical).  Winter weather can limit choices.  If your usual exercise activities are difficult during winter months consider the following:  take up a winter sport; learn Zumba; join a class;  get a new exercise game for your home video equipment.   Your local YMCA or faith-based group may also have some interesting activities available for different ages or families.  Keep  looking until you find something that works for you and your family.

Embrace the Season

Long winter evenings contain hidden opportunities.  More time inside can lead either  to family conflict or to family creativity!  Winter is a good time to start a family tradition (taco night or movie night), learn a new board game or try dinner by candlelight.  It can also be a time to slow down, rest and refresh.  Although humans don’t hibernate, we all need  “down time” and winter may be just the perfect opportunity!


If you are SAD

If you or a family member does suffer significant depressive symptoms (such as fatigue, lack of interest in normal activities, social withdrawal, weight  change and sad or irritable mood)  that interfere with daily life, consult a health or mental health professional to determine if you may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.  This type of depression usually appears during the winter months and is not present in non-winter months.   It can be treated with some combination of light therapy, medication and talk therapy.

Feeling better

Whether you are suffering from seasonal depression or simply the winter “blahs”, the professional staff of CareNet Counseling can help you and your family to replace the  winter “blues” with a brighter color.


This article originally appeared in the Triad Living Magazine Winter 2012.


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