Understanding Your Mental Health

Self-Care for the Winter Blues

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

During the colder days and shorter daylight hours of winter, it’s not unusual to experience symptoms of the “winter blues.” These can include a lack of energy or motivation, moodiness, cravings for comfort foods, a desire to sleep more and a temptation to hibernate at home.

Although most of us can relate to these feelings to one degree or another, the blues do not have to be an inevitable part of the season, according to Matthew Moore, M.D., a family medicine doctor with Henry Ford Allegiance Health.

“People often confuse the winter blues with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a form of major depression and should be treated with the help of a medical professional,” Dr. Moore says. “But, for the winter blues, there are definitely ways you can lift your mood and your energy level.”

Below are some tips to help you face the winter with less dread and more enjoyment.

  1. Make plans with friends and extended family members. Give yourself something fun to look forward to.
  2. Go outside. Even if the weather is cold, a short walk in fresh air can change your outlook. (Bundle up appropriately and follow weather advisories.)
  3. Sit by a window. Exposure to natural light helps boost your mood.
  4. Get moving. Whether you’re working out inside or outside when the weather permits, the psychological and physical effects of exercise have been shown to improve mood and reduce anxiety.
  5. Keep warm and cozy. Being cold and uncomfortable can bring on the blues. Try to relish the nice parts of winter, like a cup of hot tea, a cozy blanket, a snuggle with a beloved pet, and so on.
  6. Avoid self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. Temporarily masking your feelings can be harmful to you in the long run.
  7. Stay connected. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people.
  8. Eat your fruits and veggies. The nutrients will give your body the energy it needs, and some foods are known to boost mood.
  9. Limit comfort foods. Empty carbs, sugar, salt and fatty foods increase sluggishness and weight gain. Or try healthier versions of some of your favorite comfort food dishes, like our Pot Roast Shepherd’s Pie or Chicken Parmesan with Zucchini Noodles, or one of our healthy soup recipes.
  10. Turn away from the tanning booth.  UV exposure might improve your mood temporarily, but it also damages and ages your skin and greatly increases your risk for skin cancer

Related Topic: 5 Reasons Exercise Can Help with Depression

A little self-care can improve your mood in any season. But if nothing you try seems to help, it’s time to see your doctor. Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day, is a sign of major depression—along with feeling hopeless or worthless or having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.

“These signs should never be ignored,” Dr. Moore says. “Major depression can be effectively treated with psychotherapy, medications or combinations of these. Light therapy has also shown to be helpful with SAD. Don’t wait to seek medical advice.”

Talk to your primary care provider or a behavioral health expert if you have concerns about your mood.

Visit henryford.com to schedule an appointment orcall 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936) in southeast Michigan. If you’re in the Jackson area or south central Michigan, call 1-888-862-DOCS.

Dr. Matthew Moore is board certified in Family Medicine, caring for patients of all ages at Henry Ford Allegiance Family Medicine – Grass Lake.