How to Care for Your Mental Health During the Winter

If you live in an area where winter hits hard, you may feel this on some level. Some people have a more extreme reaction to the winter weather, and that’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

When seasons have a major impact on your mental health

SAD is a form of depression that is tied to the changing seasons. Winter depression is the most common form of SAD. It begins in late fall or early winter and continues until somewhere around the first thaw. Although it’s tied to the seasons, it’s more extreme than you may think. Not everyone who’s sad about the weather has SAD. It’s those who have trouble living their day-to-day lives that should be tested for SAD.

If you think you may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, talk to your doctor right away, especially if you’re suffering from another mental health disorder. The tips on this list may help some, but it’s best to talk to a professional about any potential mental illness.

About 4 to 6 percent of people suffer from SAD-related winter depression. Many more people notice a slight change in their mood in the winter months that isn’t severe enough to be characterized as depression. If this sounds like you, it’s crucial that you take care of your mental health during this time.

How to care for your mental health in the winter

Another snowstorm means you’ll have to stay outside shoveling until your fingers and toes are numb again. Why do people like this stuff?

Everyone is tucked away in their own corners of the world because no one wants to brave the elements. And you can’t blame them. But it only contributes to your apathy for the season and the life you lead within it. Winter can be a lonely time of year.

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We know the challenges that winter brings all too well, but we also know that wallowing in unhappiness will only bring more negative vibes.

So, let’s be proactive about our mental health and follow these self-care tips to say healthy in winter.

Get more sunlight

It’s true that not everyone can afford a Caribbean vacation in January, but you don’t need to get on a plane to get more sun. Just look out your window. Even when it’s bitter cold, if the sun is shining, take advantage. Naturally, you’ll have to stay warm too, so try sitting in a sunny spot of your home for as long as possible. It’s not as good as sitting on a beach, but it’s definitely better than sitting in a dark corner.

Sometimes, especially in winter, it seems as though the sun hides behind the clouds for months. If there are too many overcast days, consider sitting under a sun lamp. This isn’t to be mistaken for a tanning bed, although there are similarities.

Most tanning beds only deliver UVA rays, which carry a greater risk of skin cancer. Light therapy offers UVB rays, which are much safer. UVA rays penetrate much deeper into the skin and UVB rays have a much shorter wavelength.

Studies have shown that light therapy may have a positive impact on mood and sleep, which are two things that people who suffer from SAD struggle with.

If you have access to light therapy during the winter, you may want to take advantage.

Wakeup with a dawn simulator

A 2015 Journal of Affective Disorders study found that dawn simulators were as effective for patients with SAD as light therapy. In a way, a dawn simulator acts as a type of light therapy.

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A dawn simulator is a lot like an alarm clock, but it uses light instead of sound. These devices use light that gradually increases in intensity to gently nudge you awake. In this way, waking up with a dawn simulator is a lot like waking up naturally.

This way, you can use your blackout curtains to get a good night’s rest and still enjoy the benefits of sunlight (although artificial) in the morning. The best dawn simulators are most like natural sunlight, so find one that uses the full spectrum of light.

Use aromatherapy

A 2015 Journal of Natural Medicines study found that essential oils from a poplar tree were found to help depressive disorders. Essential oils work by influencing the area of the brain that’s responsible for controlling moods.

Many believe that poplar essential oils in particular are great for reducing inflammation and reducing tension. The poplar buds have been used for centuries by Native American Medicine Men.

The best way to use essential oils for depression is to place a few drops into a diffuser. You can diffuse oils as you relax and watch television or sleep peacefully.


You may not want to get all your cold weather gear on just to go to the gym, but skipping exercise will likely have an impact on your mood. When you exercise, the body releases endorphins that help you feel better. Exercise can also offset weight gain that’s common with SAD, and weight gain can worsen symptoms of depression.

And the good news is that you don’t even have to go outside to get the benefits of exercise. Go ahead and put that gym membership on hold, as long as you can commit to a home workout routine. To help keep you active in your house during the winter, get a stationary bike, treadmill, or one of the many workout DVD’s that are out there that can teach you almost anything from yoga to burst training by Dr. Pompa.

The important thing is that you get moving. Don’t let yourself spend too much time on the couch, or you’ll feel worse for it.

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Avoid bad habits

When the going gets tough, many people rely on alcohol to solve their problems. Unfortunately, alcohol is not a solution, and it can lead to drug and alcohol addiction. That nightcap you have nightly may be contributing to sleepless nights instead of helping them. And alcohol can definitely worsen symptoms of depression. Cut back on the drinking, especially if you’re already feeling depressed.

If you’re feeling down about the winter, remind yourself that this is temporary. And if you ever feel hopeless, don’t hesitate to get professional help.