Survival strategies for winter, my least favorite season.

strategies for coping with winter depression

I don’t like winter, but I like December. It’s festive and fun; twinkle lights twinkle everywhere and holiday anticipation fills the cold air. Where I live, December’s chill is new and novel. Sweaters feel good against skin that’s gone bare for too many months and the first snow is a miracle.

But then Christmas is over, the cold settles in, and spring remains two (or maybe three?) months away. The cold isn’t novel anymore. It’s oppressive. No twinkle lights brighten the dreary days.

Coming to terms with winter now that the holidays are over | Modern Mrs Darcy

I may not love winter, but I’ve learned to cope. Here’s how I’m getting myself ready for coping with my least favorite season.

(I’m not a doctor, and this is not medical advice. But these tips have helped me a lot.)

1. Bring the sunshine in.

I love my daylight, and I miss it this time of year. Despite knowing this, I waited too long to buy a light therapy box because I didn’t think I technically suffered from seasonal affective disorder. When I finally decided to get one anyway, I called it one of the smartest things I did that year.

I use my therapy light every morning. My mind knows it’s winter, but my body is happier with a little summer sunshine.

2. Get some fresh air.

I try to bring the sunshine in, but I get outside everyday too, if only for a quick dip into the park. I feel better when I breathe in fresh air and get myself outdoors into the actual sunshine, no matter how much it’s masked by winter clouds.

park winter

3. Get some exercise.

My doctor tells me we move less in the wintertime. This is a natural inclination, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for us. I make sure that every day I lift some weights, get on the treadmill or rower, do a yoga video. I’m happier—and sleep so much better—when I get some exercise.

4. Get some sleep.

Your body may even require more shut-eye in the winter months. (Mine does.)

5. Take your vitamins.

Vitamins are a recent addition to my winter regimen, because I used to think my healthy diet was sufficient. These days my doctor’s orders are a multivitamin, a B-complex, fish oil, and Vitamin D daily.

6. Embrace the cozy.

I desperately miss sunshine and warmth during these months. But winter does have its charms, and I’m doing my best to embrace them. I’m enjoying comfort food (stews and braises are my favorites). I’m lighting the fire, burning candles, and drinking tea. I’m curling up on the couch with a quilt and a good book.

Winter and I may not be on the best of terms, but I can manage till spring if I follow my own advice.

How do you feel about the winter months? What tips can you share for enjoying (or surviving) the season?

P.S. 9 novels to curl up with this winter.

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  1. Victoria says:

    I am right there with you with not enjoying winter much. I survive by reading the forecast and trying to get out for a winter run whenever the sun is going to be out and the temperatures are going to be the warmest for the day. I also try to work on a few indoor type projects over the winter months like the family photo album or bigger knitting projects just to put the indoor time to some use and not get cabin fever.

  2. Jillian Kay says:

    I never used to mind the winter, but since last year was so mild this year feels like a shock to me. I agree that getting outside every day helps. I’ve also been reading my seed catalogues and dreaming of Spring!

  3. Tim says:

    One way I get some fresh air during the winter months (besides running up to the gym a few mornings a week) is to go across the street for coffee. I could make it in my office, but by walking a block and taking the time to say hello to the nice folks who make a good cup of coffee I am able to break the routine and enjoy the weather for a short bit. Unless it’s driving rain, I can make it there and back with relatively little discomfort and sometimes make it into a very enjoyable stroll.

  4. As I read your blog I am sitting at my writing desk, strategically positioned to get the morning sunshine. I have terrible SADD. I crave sunshine like food. After 3 days of grey, I’m a wreck. I have a light box, but it doesn’t seem to give me the same psychological lift as the sun because it is cold. I’ll check out the one you suggest. Be good to yourself, I would add. And a trip to FL is sometimes what the doctor orders. 🙂

  5. Rebecca says:

    OH, yes! This post was spot on. I layer light (overhead, spots, lamps, and candles) and move all my houseplants to my living area. Is it just me, or is it hard to drink enough water in the winter? Dehydration is such an energy sucker for me. I also like to do 28 or 30 day challenges during January and February to give myself a little extra motivation. I usually do a brain/spiritual challenge in January (a Bible study, a reading group, etc) and a physical or house challenge in February.

    • Anne says:

      Nope, it’s not just you–it’s hard for me to drink water in the winter, too.

      I love the idea of layering light and moving the plants!

    • 'Becca says:

      I drink hot peppermint tea every morning when I get to work. Usually I feel like drinking a second cup of coffee instead, but if I have that cup of WATER plus invigorating mint, it will perk me up for several more hours before I actually need the caffeine boost.

      The tea also warms me up. I hate being cold, and in winter I get very cold walking 4 blocks from the bus to work.

      • TR says:

        I too drink more hot tea in the winter. It has many benefits, antioxidants, and just gives me that warm comforting feeling. Breakfast and chai teas are nice for the morning, but I always drink decaf or chamomile later on to allow for a good nights sleep.

  6. Carrie says:

    These are all great tips and are precisely what I do to keep my mood up also. This winter has been mild so thankfully I’ve been able to keep up my daily walk. It’s the #1 thing for me, no matter what the season, for keeping my mood good.

  7. Emily says:

    I was beginning to think I was the only one who really disliked the Winter. My husband and I just moved to Northern Idaho and I am seriously struggling with Winter blues. Thank you for these recommendations. I need to look in to the Happy Lamps. How much Vitamin D do you take? My multi-vitamin has 1000 IUDs and I’m wondering if that’s enough.

    • Anne says:

      Emily, I take 10,000 IU/day after talking it over with my dr. I also forgot to mention I take magnesium because those two vitamins need each other to work!

  8. Amy says:

    These are great thoughts. I do most of these things but I forgot that yes, I probably do need more sleep and was wondering why I was struggling to get up in the morning, even going to bed at my normal time.

    Have you ever tried embracing the winter and finding a winter sport that you can do? This has helped me a lot (we live in northern Maine). Now, I find myself thinking that I only have 3 months to enjoy snowshoeing or XC skiing or ice skating…it’s a different perspective. For ease, I’d suggest snowshoeing- you can explore lots of places that are unattainable in the summer because they are brushy or wet. And I can strap my snowshoes on in less than a minute. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Amy, I love the thought, and I would love to try snowshoeing! At least once 🙂 I’m not sure it snows enough here for that, but I would love to try it sometime, somewhere. I’ll need to come up with another sport I can do where I live.

  9. I’m reveling in winter. Scarves! Jackets! Not having to run the AC!

    I refuse to run the AC after October, so the beginning of Nov was pretty hot – still high 80s/low 90s outside, often low 80s inside, meh. As late as Dec 7th we went swimming – in an outdoor pool!

    But in the last 2 weeks “winter” officially arrived. It’s only in the 50s in the day, and 30s at night, and I love it SO much. I have such a hard time understanding/empathizing with people like you who dread winter. 🙂

    But then I remind myself that you probably feel how I do in March, the first time the temp tops 90, and suddenly I realize that soon I’ll only be able to take E to the park before 9 am or after 6 pm, and I’ll only be able to wear shorts and flip flops for the next 7 months, and my options will be either (a) AC all day or (b) sweating all day. So whatever the opposite of Seasonal Affective Disorder is? I have THAT! 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Jessica, I love fall! So maybe I’d love the Arizona winter. And I do love winter here–for about a month. Unfortunately it lasts longer than that 🙂

    • Darla DH says:

      I’m pretty much with you, Jessica. October-December are my 3 favorite months of the year. (Well, once it finally cools down in October that is. Seems like it took forever this year.) I am very sad Christmas is over but I left some of my twinkly lights up inside the house for at least January. That does seem to help chase away some of the January blahs. I burn lots of candles as well. Creating cozy ambiance inside the house this time of year is the key for me.

    • SarahL says:

      Umm, probably because winter in CO = 0° or below. If it was fifty and sunny… well, that would be spring for me! 😉 I grew up in Southern California, so I hear you on the heat lethargy. It’s hard to deal with.

    • Dawn Reiss says:

      I live in south Texas and I am right there with you. Most people describe winter weather as oppressive, which is exactly how I feel about relentless summer heat (May-October here, at least). I often say I struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, just in summer, which is much less common.

  10. It’s so funny that you mention the light thing because I’ve recently realized what an issue that is for me. My husband walks into our bedroom and sees the overhead light on along with three lamps and thinks I’m crazy! Maybe I just need the right kind of light…and to get outside more.

      • kay kerns says:

        Amy I bought my light box from and I asked my Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner which one to buy…she said any one as long as it has 10,000 LUX

  11. Asha says:

    We’ve lived in Canada for the past decade and so I’ve learned my own ways to cope with our long cold winters. 1. Embrace winter “fashion”. Winter cold is no time to worry about looking fashionable. Winter is a time to choose function over aesthetics if there ever was one: bring on the long johns and puffy marshmallow costs. 2. Embrace a winter sport. Having something to get you outside to look forward to ad keep you moving makes a world of difference. My hubby snowboards and looks forward to all the good snows so he can enjoy a good day on the hill. I xcountry ski with my family to get out and explore, and we try to take our boys out sledding when it’s not too cold. And 3. Get away. I noticed a few years ago that almost everyone I knew who could afford to went on a trip in about February. The one year we could get away someplace warm was so nice! It was wonderful to have something to look forward to and be reminded what it’s like to be in warm sunshine again. It’s not somehow we can do every year, but it makes a big difference in a long winter.

  12. Rebecca says:

    What’s funny is that I’m the other way around: I get depressed when it’s too sunny. I love the dark. So I don’t need a lamp haha. I do tend to make my house a cave during the sunny months though.

  13. Getting outside is key for me. I’m also grateful that the whole Christmas thing got associated with the winter solstice, because it gives a way to break up the winter. Without it, November through March would be a pretty hard slog. With it, January to March is still bad but somehow much more doable.

  14. Ana says:

    What kind/brand of vitamins do you take? We also have just relied on a healthy diet but recently I wanted all of us to take something just as a precaution during this awful flu season. I’m looking for something without a lot of junk in it–food colors, ect for the grownups and the kids of our house. Any recommendations?

    • Anne says:

      I have store brand Vitacost at the moment, plus Emergen-C when we need a boost of Vitamin C, like now when two kids seem to be fighting off cold germs.

  15. I feel the same way about winter, especially when it’s dark as I drive to the office and dark when I drive home — ugh! But thank you for these great suggestions. Happy New Year to you!

  16. Quen says:

    We moved back to Colorado after 10 years in Dallas, this past summer. I’ve always loved winter, but having a real winter is a little more challenging with kids. On snowy days, getting them dressed for school is an ordeal. They have to wear layers, coats, hats, gloves and snow boots. If it’s a
    gym day, they have to take sneakers to change in to. They are already bored
    with the snow! I never thought I would see that day because snow was such a novelty in Dallas. While I still love winter and all of
    the snow, I’ve found that I’m a little blue this year. I’m going to try out your tips!

  17. Anne says:

    I don’t have any exercise equipment but would love everyone’s favorite workout video, especially something the kids would enjoy bopping around to. Anyone?

  18. liz n. says:

    Another member of the SAD club, here. I’m also claustrophobic, which enhances SAD. Living in Dallas, we obviously don’t get much snow, but we do get grey, cold, rainy, drizzly, and just all-around bleh weather mixed in with very sunny days…as well as a couple of good ice storms (we can almost always count on March to give us one last coating of ice before making way for springtime).

    So, I HAVE to get outside. Still go for a run/walk every morning, unless the pavement is icy. I’ll even bundle up and sit outside to read for as long as I can take the cold! I’m fortunate that the house faces south, which means lots of sunlight all day. However, the sun also sets before dinnertime, so the evenings are what wear me out. I often find myself feeling sleepy around 9 pm.

    Dehydration, yes, definitely an issue. I’ve cut back on coffee and tea, but cold beverages don’t appeal to me when the weather is also cold, so I get my water fix with hot lemon water with honey. My skin gets very dry in winter–painfully so–although I’ve found some great skincare products this year that are making life bearable, so yay! (In the past, I had to take cold showers, because hot water actually made my skin hurt even more. Ain’t that a lovely way to start the day!)

    But there are many things I like about this time of year, even though I dislike winter overall. Comfort food and more baking, warm socks, soft sweaters, working on the quilting part of the quilts… not feeling that I should put down this book because what I really should be doing is checking on the garden or doing some other spring/summer chore that interferes with reading, lol. And one of the best things about winter here is when Mother Nature relents and gives us one or two warm days sprinkled in amongst the icky, cold gloomy ones…everyone gets a day or so to relax our winter-weary minds and bodies.

    Also, chili with cornbread. That’s one of the very best things about winter! 😀

    • liz n. says:

      Related story:
      Back in college, one of my roomies was from Delaware. A few days before Thanksgiving, we were sunning by the pool, and she called friends back home specifically to tell them that she was outside, in a swimsuit, at the pool. I don’t remember their exact responses, except that their words were not suitable for posting in a public forum. 😉

  19. I actually love winter, which is a good thing since I’m in Minnesota. There’s something so beautiful and peaceful about the colder months. The air has a special crackle to it, and the icy purple sunsets are gorgeous. I’d take cold weather over a hot summer day anytime. You’ve got the right idea with getting outside every day. If you’re ever in a climate cold enough, you should try ice fishing! It’s my favorite . . . especially since I give up after an hour and huddle near the heater with a book. 🙂

    • MelissaJoy says:

      Great perspective. I’m near Lake Harriet and am so curious about ice fishing. A heater and a book on the ice sounds…chilly 🙂

  20. I have list for each season ~ things to enjoy and to make that season special. Summer’s list includes things like “drink a glass of sweet tea with fresh mint” and “Read in the porch swing”. Spring has “Clean and organize something” and “Work in the garden”. Autumn has “Light candles in the evening” and “Read under a blanket”. And Winter has things like, “Make soup from scratch” and “Sit and listen to the rain”. Some of these things are automatic, and maybe even fall under the heading of chores, but the lists still remind me that these are largely unique to their season, and therefore a way of celebration. 🙂

  21. Lori says:

    I love winter, and having moved from Canada to Turkey, I don’t usually get a proper winter. It snowed quite a bit here last night, and they are calling for more tonight… I plan on embracing the weather, and (since I’m a teacher) hoping for so much snow that we get a snow holiday!!

  22. MelissaJoy says:

    Happy new year! Great thoughts and I like the idea of embracing the winter with snowshoes. Maybe the idea will turn into reality this season. We live in the Minnesota tundra and I have to say that installing auto start into our car was one of the best things for my mental health. I am more motivated to leave the house more often with my littles than I did previous years. It’s a little boost but every bit helps 🙂

      • MelissaJoy says:

        Oh, yes, summer mornings (how I long for them now!) can be tricky with the wardrobe. We’re you encouraged to pack long underwear?! Where was your camp?

        Auto start could be described as a remote start. It could also be described as the thing that helps me stay social for the eight months of winter here 🙂 About 15 minutes prior to my departure I press a little button on my keychain which sends a signal to my car to start. The car warms up without me. Today, it was -4 here. It’s great for blazing hot summer days, too.

  23. Tory says:

    Since I have gotten serious about running, I’m starting to love winter (which I’ve always hated!) Running in heat and humidity is miserable, and getting up at 4am for long runs in the summer is not much fun but the best way to beat the heat. In winter I can run at a more civilized time and enjoy perfect running temps (30-45 degrees here in the middle of the day) and faster times.

  24. Dana says:

    I am so not a winter girl….I was happiest when I lived in South Florida and could be outside every day. I love to garden and sit outside and read. Where I live now is not really cold in winter but cold enough for me. We get days of really cold weather followed by warmer days. I get outside every day by walking the dog…I bundle up and get put for 30 minutes 2 x per day. That really helps. I also let lots of sunshine into the house and I sit on my sunporch each morning while I eat breakfast even if I have to wear a couple of sweatshirts and a hat. Getting a lot of sunlight is key. I also indulge in my favorite hot tea from Caribou which is Earl Grey/Mango.

    What I do like about winter is sitting and reading without guilt since I can’t be out in the
    garden/yard. I also enjoy making soups and chili and baking bread.

  25. Allison says:

    Anne –

    I don’t mind winter. The bundling up is nice. I DO NOT like fall. Yes, I like cooler weather. But with the leaves falling off the trees – dying – it is depressing to me (and all that pumpkin flavored stuff – yuck!). And then when the clocks change and it gets darker earlier in the evening – it throws me off for weeks. Weeks. Today, it is 30F here but bright sunshine and blue skies. Not bad. Sure I would like it in the 60’s. But now I know spring (my favorite) is just around the corner. Aaahh – the new blooms, everything coming alive…the best. 🙂

  26. Corby says:

    When I lived in Connecticut in the winter I would change all the light bulbs (except the bedroom) to daylight bright light bulbs. They emit more blue light and really brighten a dark wintery day.

  27. kay kerns says:

    I’m another SAD one, grew up in Hawaii then moved to the Pacific Northwest. I started using light therapy and my doctor prescribed vitamin D. I use many of the coping strategies you and the other readers do plus I go on walks looking for signs of the coming spring…the foliage of spring-blooming bulbs peeking out, and the scent of winter-blooming shrubs. That helps a bit. Stay cozy!

  28. Elizabeth says:

    The hardest part of winter for me is the kids going stir-crazy. When they were little I could meet a friend at a McDonald’s Playplace or walk around the mall. Now that they’re too big for that it’s gotten more difficult. We have a really cool thing for homeschooler’s in the area though that we can take up to 5 classes through the area schools for free. So now we’re doing swimming lessons, gymnastics and music lessons. It has helped sooooo much! I still want to try out a lightbox though. Great ideas!

  29. Leanne says:

    You have some great coping ideas! Another thing that helps is planning events to get out with people; meeting someone for coffee or lunch, having a game night and inviting friends in, etc. Also drinking tea and reading lots of books!

  30. Jackie M. says:

    I love all of these suggestions — winter is my least favorite season as well — as soon as the holidays are over, I am ready for spring! We have been trying to make sure we take the dogs for a walk every day (even if it is a quick one), and I am all about embracing the cozy — we have blankets for every couch, and I just checked out the second Outlander book (you have me addicted to the series :)). I also left up the colored holiday lights around the kitchen window in the hopes that they will help dispel the gloominess of the January days.

  31. I love these tips, Anne. I, too, am not a fan of the winter (and we’ve had SO MUCH of it in Chicago these past two years!).

    One thing that really helps me is to keep a simple checklist of healthy habits that I’m trying to stick to. Since I lack focus and motivation in winter, having a checklist is a visual reminder of the things that I know I should do to have a good day (e.g., exercise for 30 minutes, light therapy box, drink 60 oz water, etc.).

    The other thing that’s been a Godsend is belonging to our local sports center. When it gets really really cold, it really helps to have a place where the whole family can go just to get out of the house (and it doesn’t hurt that the childcare is great!). We can also take the kids swimming a couple of times a week. It’s not a perfect solution; we can’t go when we’re sick, and we risk picking up more germs, but it’s worth its weight in mental health gold.

  32. Amy says:

    Lots of great tips! I am a gardener so I cope with winter cold and the blues by putting lots of attention into planning my garden: going over seed catalogs, making garden plans, etc. I’ll be starting seeds soon in indoor flats. All this helps me focus on a very positive thing: spring!! Also the kids and I do lots of de-cluttering of the house during winter, which helps me feel better about being inside so much. Blessings to you! (I’m thinking about trying one of those light boxes, I think I could use one.)

  33. Julie H. says:

    I love these suggestions! i just started teaching again after a looong winter break, and it’s hard to get back into the swing of things when it’s so freaking cold! The sunshine and exercise ones are my favorites.

  34. Shauna says:

    “No twinkle lights brighten the dreary days.”

    Why not? 🙂 I keep a string of lights up in our living room after I take our Christmas tree down, and I turn them on when it’s dreary.

  35. ellen says:

    Cape Cod, MA is known for its unpredictable weather. 2 years ago, we had 105 inches of snow over a short, (which seemed like forever,) period of time. Our cozy and warm medium-weight down comforter from The Company Store saved us-especially when the power went out which was quite often. Our cat, Hank was no dummy. He often crawled under the covers to keep himself warm too, and to add an extra layer of cozy for us. I highly recommend a down comforter. Outstanding.

  36. ellen from Cape Cod (again) says:

    A sure fire way to wrestle the cold weather is the following: Before I go outside, I put my coat in the dryer for @ 5 minutes and get it toasty warm. I then pop it on and this takes a huge bite out of the shock of going outside in often very cold weather. It sure works for me; maybe you as well.

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