For those who are prone to depression or struggle with a form of seasonal depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the winter—when sunlight may be lacking depending on where you live—can be especially rough to handle happily. “Sunlight can stimulate the release of serotonin, a feel-good brain chemical,” says psychologist Jennifer Carter, PhD. “With less sunlight, individuals are more prone to depressed moods.” But the mid-winter blues can also be tough to manage for those don’t have an underlying mental-health condition, leading even the most positive of people to feel blah.
“Mid-winter brings along the darkest and coldest months of the year,” says psychologist Shannon O’Neill, PhD, adding that those short, cold days make many people want to “socially hibernate.” “With this isolation and withdrawal comes being more sedentary, lethargy, overeating, and excessive sleep,” she adds. And those behaviors are common symptoms of depressive feelings, which can lower your mood even further.
“The middle part has a tendency to be the more tedious. It can drag on.” —psychologist Paul Coleman, PsyD
But since that mood is theoretically relevant to all of wintertime, it's key to note that what sets the mid-winter blues apart as uniquely blasé is the sheer slog of the timeframe. Just as people understand books and movies have a beginning, middle, and end, they feel similarly about seasons. “In all cases—unless it is fun and short-lived—the middle part has a tendency to be the more tedious. It can drag on,” says psychologist Paul Coleman, PsyD. “The middle is where the work happens—where the challenges mount.” It’s easy to view the middle of winter in this way and get down about it, he says.
While you can’t fast-forward time until spring, experts say there are some strategies you can implement to help you shake off the mid-winter blues and make this stretch of time feel more palatable—check them out below.
1. Plan something to look forward to
This is crucial, because the end of winter is still far away. "Socializing, working out—anything that you can place on your calendar that will be fun or relaxing can make the days and weeks tick faster,” Dr. Coleman says. Consider taking a new, weekly class, or booking a trip for a few weeks from now so you have something to get excited about.
2. Go to the gym
When you’re in a funk, it’s easy to say you’ll do something more positive once you’re feeling more upbeat—but why wait? “You can be waiting a really long time for your emotions to inform you it’s time to take action,” Dr. O’Neill says. Because of this, she recommends acting first and then letting your mood follow.
A classic example of this is going to the gym, even when you don’t really feel like it. “No one leaves the gym saying ‘I'm so disappointed that I worked out,’” Dr. O’Neill says. Exercise is a natural mood-booster, and going regularly can help lift your mood, she says.
3. Focus on chores you don’t make time for in the warmer months
Because when it's 75 and sunny outside, you'd probably rather not be cleaning out your closet, organizing your pantry, or trying out complicated new recipes. So, one way to kick your mid-winter blues is by using the time as an opportunity to check off items from your to-do list that will make you feel accomplished and motivated.
4. Limit how much you complain about the weather
It’s no secret that you're not so into the current weather, but wallowing in that sentiment will neither change that reality nor make you feel better. “You are not simply venting, you are reinforcing the idea that the winter months cannot be enjoyed, and you are emotionally resisting the reality of winter,” Dr. Coleman says. "It’s “better to emotionally accept the reality of winter instead of shaking a fist at it.” When you do, Coleman says you may end up feeling less stressed as a result.
5. Practice gratitude
It can be tough to conjure positive feelings about winter when you’re in the thick of it, but there are some perks to the colder months. “Four seasons provide a wonderful variety, and in the many areas of the world, the cold darkness of winter is a great contrast to the sunny heat of summer,” Dr. Carter says. “Winter is the perfect time to snuggle with loved ones and pets, as well as an opportunity to rest and catch up on engrossing narratives in books, movies, and TV.” Asking yourself what you actually like about winter—and reminding yourself of that when you’re feeling down—can help change your mental narrative about the season.
Ultimately, it's totally normal to go through bouts of mid-winter blues. But if you find yourself in a depressed mood for two weeks or more, it’s causing you significant distress, and it’s interfering with your ability to function at home, work, and in relationships, Dr. Carter suggests seeking the help of a mental-health professional who can help you develop of strategy that will work best for you and your symptoms.
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