How to avoid winter depression

January 11, 2016


Yes, I know. It’s a dark season and many suffer from seasonal affective disorder. You know, that dreaded winter depression that comes on when days are short, dark comes early and it’s sooo cold outside. It’s real and there’s some real science behind ways to avoid winter depression.

By all means, if your doctor thinks you need anti-depressants, take them. But if not, here are some simple but helpful things you can do that are non-invasive and don’t involve putting chemicals in your body. They’re worth a try.

Get some sun.

Here’s a fact: Only 1 percent of Florida residents get that winter depression, which (in part)  led scientists to conclude that sunlight would be a good treatment. But in some parts of the country winter sunlight is hard to come by. That’s why many physicians prescribe sunbox lights as treatment. They feature special fluorescent tubes that mimic beneficial sunlight. They really are the go-to treatment for those with winter depression, even if it’s a mild case. Recommended dose is about 30 minutes of exposure  first thing in the morning. That timing is important to keeping your body clock on a springtime cycle, which combats depression. Lots of science behind this. You can find these for under $200 and it’s an easy treatment. Put the box on your desk in the morning or even at your kitchen table while you have your coffee.

I get this. I’m pretty cheery most of the time, but maybe that’s because from age 21, I’ve always lived in sunny climates. I’m not so sure I’d be a great candidate for the weather in Seattle or even my hometown of Rochester, NY.

Get moving.

How many times have we been told that moving helps depression? Moving as in get thee to a gym, walk the dog, do some cardio. Exercise: another easy, non-invasive treatment to avoid the winter blues.  (Or as I spell it sometimes or even do it, exercuse.)


Bundle up and enjoy the winter sunshine and scenery. Fresh air and light do wonders!

Take a walk outside.

Yes, I know. It’s cold. Bundle up, slip on your gloves and hat, wrap a warm scarf around your neck and get outside to breathe some cold, crisp air. Especially if the sun’s out.  It works.  Fresh air. Mmmm!

Visit with friends

Combat the winter blues with a tea date with friends. Or lunch at a favorite restaurant. Even better if there’s a lot of cheerful buzz in the place.  Just hanging out with people we care about can be part of a simple treatment plan.

Do something good for another

Psychologists have long prescribed volunteer work as a treatment for the doldrums. Funny how stepping out of yourself and doing something good for someone else can help banish winter depression.

Start a project

Winter’s the perfect time to distract yourself with that project you’ve been meaning to start. Learn Zentangle.  Take up a craft. Do something that will take time and attention away from feeling down. (Don’t mention my raw silk project, though. Unless you want to do it for me.)

Avoid carbs and sugar

So many reasons to do this, but a diet change like this can help you avoid winter depression.


Our kitchen & family room post-renovation but before we hung art. I defy you to be depressed in here!  Oh, how I love it!

Brighten your space

Take it from me. It’s harder to be depressed if your environment is bright and cheery. Paint, bright artwork, fun throw pillows–you don’t have to spend a whole lot of  money to get the effect.

Plan a vacation

Is there any better way to cheer yourself up than to plan a break somewhere fun? Winter’s a great time to plan that vacation or weekend away.

Go south

If you can, head to the sunshine in the winter. I know plenty of residents of the northeastern U.S. who do this every year to get some warmth and light.

So, what works for you? I’d love you to share in the Comments so everyone can benefit. Thank you!

46 comments on “How to avoid winter depression
  1. ryder ziebarth says:

    All excellent suggestions. I don’t necessarily get depressed as much as I want to hierberate for five months and all of your suggestion help me get out of those rut. Only thing I’d add is get your Vitamin D levels checked, and ask how much more to take in the winter months. I was freakishly and surprisingly low last winter— had to take 5000 for a few weeks and then back off to 2000. It’s an important vitamin, esp. in winter when the lite is so low.

  2. Haralee says:

    From beautiful but gray Portland Oregon, many, many people use their happy lights in the winter just like you suggest. Contrary to the belief that it is the rain that bugs people, it is the day after day of no sunshine that really depresses people. As you mentioned, getting outside is a good thing.

  3. Excellent practical suggestions, Carol. And I will share. And although not everyone can “go south,” you can do these other things more easily. Something else vital to getting through these months is laughter — that of course can tie in with being with others. Make sure your choice of people to be with are those that lift you up, not drag you down!

  4. This is one of the biggest reasons we made the move from Ohio to Florida, so I know it all too well. Your suggestions are all good ones– especially to head south! My doctor told me that a high percentage of women over 40 are deficient in Vitamin D (I was)…so definitely might be something to that as well.

  5. Carla says:

    I think I erroneously believed I would not need your suggestions until…last weekend 🙂
    Whether it is El Niño or just a shift and weather patterns my beloved Texas has become cold wet and gray during the winter. I need to take action so I don’t get depressed.

  6. I love your house! I am one of those people who enjoys the gloomy weather – snuggling up under a blanket, reading a good book – but a brisk walk is always a great idea.

  7. Did you know that the majority of anti-depressants are prescribed between Detroit and Buffalo? The Great Lakes region is under cloud cover 6 months a year. So get out and exercise!

  8. Barbara says:

    All great suggestions. btw…what did you decide to do with the silk? Just curious (and nosy). 😉

  9. Carolann says:

    Love your space! I never get the winter blues even when the weather is really bad out. All good tips for sure Carol!

  10. Andrea B. says:

    This is a great post, Carol. And so very true. So many of these things help when the dreary days set in and it’s darker earlier and all that comes with it!

    Your space is beautiful! Love the brightness and the colors. Just fabulous.

  11. I don’t get winter depression…there is plenty of sunshine in Dallas any time of year. Even so, I try to get out of here as much as possible!

  12. Roz Warren says:

    Read your excellent advice in an upbeat mood on a bright sunny Philadelphia day, so.. I’m printing it out to consult when it gets grey and gloomy. I do most of this stuff already, which could be why I’m usually pretty cheerful. But I can always use a reminder to ignore my sweet tooth.

  13. Great list, Carol! I lean on so many of these when my spirits hang low. Your pictures are great too.

  14. Ellen Dolgen says:

    These are fabulous tips! I live in California, however, these tips can be useful on a” gloomy – grey day” emotionally.

  15. Lee Gaitan says:

    Yes, yes, and yes! These are all valid and effective ways to help battle the wintertime blues. Lack of sunlight definitely affects me–maybe not to a clinical level, but my mood does suffer. And it’s like you said, some of the things that seem almost counter-intuitive, like going for a walk in the cold, actually help–boost that metabolism, get the circulation going and some endorphins flowing. Or maybe just hit a Caribbean beach ASAP!

  16. Robin Herman says:

    Solid suggestions and I’ve checked off almost all (PT and gym, walks in the winter sun, Florida vacation coming up, meeting with friends, helping an immigrant learn English) yet here I sit reading this with tea and a box of cookies by my side. Carbs plus sugar! And don’t talk to me about bread and pasta in the winter… Will have to keep an eye on that.

  17. andrea says:

    well i got some sun – and i got some exercise today. So it was a good day 🙂

  18. It would definitely hard to be depressed in your house! How beautiful! I do love dark, rainy days sometimes but am very happy to be living in Southern California now!

  19. Elizabeth O. says:

    On the contrary, winter is kind of relaxing. But I do appreciate your tips! This will definitely help even those who just wants to do something during the winter!

  20. brianna says:

    all great ideas. I get SAD every year…even after moving more south last year…:(

  21. Meg Root says:

    This was such helpful wellness advice with very cheery photos to go with it. Shared it as I think it will be helpful to many people.

  22. These are great tips. Getting some sun is very important. A dose of sunshine cheers you up.

  23. Jennifer says:

    Yes, going south is on my list of things to do.

  24. What a great tips!! And it would be hard to be depressed in your house!

  25. Great advice and I’m definitely going to try some of your tips. I bought a happy light to brighten things up but I need more than just that to help me through the winter blues.

  26. Liz Mays says:

    Yes, yes, yes. Carbs and sugar make me feel sluggish and yucky! I need lots of sunshine to help too!

  27. I love all your suggestions. I feel when I get moving I feel the best during winter. I know that staying away from carbs and sugar are so important during the winter, but I crave them even more than. I think because its the instant high you get after eating them.

  28. valerie says:

    great post especially since i hate winter time. i hibernate as much as i can. but i do agree with getting as much as as you can as it does perk you up. but i just hate the chill that comes along with it lol

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