Managing Mental Health in the Winter

Many people experience difficulty managing their mental health in the wintertime. Having increased symptoms of depression during the winter used to be known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Now with the DSM-5, we diagnose it as Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern. Some people just refer to it as getting the winter blues. No matter the term, the effect is the same—people often tend to feel more depressed during the winter, and it can make life difficult to manage!


What to Look For

The symptoms of depression remain the same, whether you experience them due to the change in the weather or due to something else. Symptoms include:

1. A depressed mood most of the time which could include irritability, sadness, feeling empty, and hopelessness

2. A loss of interest in things you used to enjoy or in pleasure received from doing things you normally like to do

3. Changes in appetite/weight

4. Changes in sleep—sleeping way too much or just never enough

5. Moving differently than normal—either so slowly or so rapidly that other people notice

6. Fatigue/loss of energy most of the day, almost daily

7. Difficulty concentrating or making decisions almost daily

8. Suicidal ideation.


You may be experiencing Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern if:

1. You have 5 or more of the symptoms listed above occurring almost constantly

2. The symptoms aren’t caused by anything else such as a medical condition/substance use/a different mental illness

3. These symptoms are causing you distress or impairing your ability to function.

If this is the case for you, then it may be time for you to reach out to your primary care doctor and/or a mental health professional to help you start to heal. If you notice these symptoms occur pretty much every year when the seasons change, consider telling your clinicians that you are concerned about having depression with a seasonal pattern.


What To Do About It

There are countless things you can do to treat symptoms of depression. Many people find that medication is very effective. You can see your regular primary care doctor, or go to a psychiatrist to start medication management and figure out what will work for you. Many people also find that mental health therapy is especially effective for treating their symptoms of depression. There is a huge variety of ways to treat depression with psychotherapy, and countless mental health therapists who can provide that service to you. Many people find that a combination of both mental health therapy and medication is the most effective way to treat symptoms of depression. It’s important to figure out what you personally need. Not every therapist will be a good fit for every person, and not every medication will work perfectly for every person. Your treatment should be individual to you! Take the time to explore so you can find success.

While you’re working on finding mental healthcare professionals to guide you in your healing journey, there are many simple things that you can try to do on your own to combat your symptoms of seasonal depression this winter.

1. Talk to people! Isolation and loneliness are huge contributors to depression, especially in the wintertime when it’s easy to be trapped at home by yourself because of the cold. Try to seek out social interaction, even if it’s just smiling at someone in the grocery store or saying hi to a coworker.

2. Take inventory of your self-care needs. Figure out what’s lacking and what could be contributing to your depression symptoms, and find baby steps to make improvement. For example, if you find you’re not spending enough time outside, see if you can carve out 2 minutes a day just to stand outside, breathe in the fresh air, and let the sun shine down on you.

3. Move your body. Even the most minimal movements can help to make you feel better. Stretch for 5 minutes, or follow along with a yoga instruction video online. Find what you’re actually able to do so that you can complete tasks that are manageable, and do it consistently.

4. Practice deep breathing. Deep breathing helps our bodies to regulate, and it tells our minds that we are safe so we can trigger our relaxation response. Breathing deeply also gets more oxygen to our brains, helping us to think more clearly. Practice a deep breathing exercise daily so you can increase your lung capacity and allow the deep breaths to start to feel more natural. Your body will realize that deep breaths make you feel calmer, and you’ll start to engage in deep breathing naturally when you need to self-regulate to manage difficult emotions.

5. Get out of the house. Don’t let cabin fever contribute to your symptoms of seasonal depression. Try to leave your home as much as possible, even if it’s just to check the mail.



The winter blues can get you down, but there are ways to get back up again. Reach out to trusted professionals or to loved ones if you need help. Figure out what you personally need, and pursue what will help. Keep in mind that treatment takes time, so give yourself time, space, and grace to see results.



Goldman, L. S., Nielsen, N. H., & Champion, H. C. (1999). Awareness, diagnosis, and treatment of depression. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 14(9), 569–580.

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