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How to Navigate Mental Health During Winter

Zoe Mittman, LSW

Does anyone else feel like it was just summer? I know that I do, and I certainly feel as though we completely skipped over fall. Maybe you’re in the same boat as me, or maybe the summer months felt way too long. However, we are now entering late fall and early winter – the months filled with shorter days, a lack of sunlight, cold weather, and grey skies. During this time, it is common for people to experience a change in mood. Research has shown an increase in Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as Major Depression with a seasonal pattern. During the late fall and winter months, there is a spike in depression among individuals — feelings of sadness, loneliness, fatigue, and emptiness. Other common symptoms include a lack of energy/a lack of desire to engage in daily activities, changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too much, too little, staying up to all hours), or significant changes in eating habits. 

By the time it turns 5 pm, the Chicago skies are pitch black. You can see the lights shining from within apartment buildings, office buildings, and restaurants. Your circadian rhythm, which is your internal alarm clock, tells your body when to wake up and go to sleep, is based on natural light. That is why, when it gets dark very early in the night, you might feel tired and ready to go to bed. It is completely normal to want to put on pajamas, watch tv, read a book, and fall asleep. However, as humans, we have responsibilities, and this desire to stay inside and go to bed super early, may not be feasible. In addition, it can be damaging to your mental health to spend excessive time indoors, especially in bed. Therefore, it is extremely important to go into these winter months with a toolbox of skills to help you cope with any challenges that may arise.

  • Natural and bright lights can help to increase your mood. Researchers have found that people struggling during the winter months have benefited from light therapy.  Maybe this means you keep many of the lights on in your apartment until it is time to get ready for bed, or maybe you invest in an alarm clock that wakes you up with a fake, but the natural sun. Whichever route you choose, it is so crucial to keep the lights on, even when it gets dark outside at 5 pm. The light tells your body that it is not yet time to go to sleep!
  • Try to go to sleep and wake up around the same time every day- your body will eventually get used to the time you fall asleep and wake up in the morning. You will have better sleep and will feel well-rested and ready to conquer your day.
  • Set a timer and spend about 20 minutes in the morning or evening cleaning your home. Depending on whether you are more of a morning or night person, it is completely your call. However, getting this done not only prevents you from spending a whole weekend cleaning, but it allows you to feel better and have a clear headspace. Having a clean home sets the tone for the day. If you work from home, clean space has proven to improve productivity. If you go to the office, coming home to a clean space at night is a great feeling and can improve your mood. 
  • Incorporate movement into your daily routine. Whether it is layering up and going for a walk outside, practicing yoga in your home, or whatever type of exercise you want to engage in, mindful movement releases endorphins, allows you to live in the present moment, and decreases stress. 
  • Make your home warm and cozy. You want your home to be somewhere that brings positive vibes, comfort, and safety. Maybe you light candles, wrap yourself in a blanket, or decorate your home for the holidays.

Lastly, if you or someone you know might be struggling during the colder months, please feel free to reach out to Symmetry Counseling at (312) 578-9990 or go to our website to learn more about the benefits of therapy and find the right therapist for you!

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