How to Deal With the Dark Days of Winter

seasonal affective disorder

“Put the pale withering plant and human being into the sun, and if not too far gone, each will recover health and spirit.”  -Florence Nightingale                      

The short days of winter can be challenging. Many people find themselves feeling down, low energy, more stressed, tired, dreading winter, and longing for the daylight of springtime.

Symptoms may include:

  • Sad and depressed mood
  • Loss of energy/increased fatigue
  • Excessive sleep
  • Appetite changes/weight gain/craving for carbs
  • Irritability or feeling worthless
  • Burnout
  • Isolating

It can be a slippery slope through the winter holidays; indulging in comfort foods and increased carbohydrates and sugar. Often times these habits increase depression, weight gain, and lack of energy.

Staying indoors can become another habit, and over time, lack of exercise and exposure to natural light can lead to increased depression and low energy. Isolation can take hold and impact one’s emotional state.

How the darker days affect your mood and hormones

Mood is influenced by a complex web of relationships among sunlight, melatonin (the sleep hormone), and serotonin (the hormone linked to wakefulness and good mood). As darkness falls, melatonin levels increase. As morning light emerges, melatonin decreases. Exposure to bright light increases serotonin levels.

Self-care tips for the darker days of winter

The following are a few tips for staying connected, increasing energy, and self-care through the winter months.

  • Consider counseling, or medication if needed. Make an appointment with your primary care physician.
  • Consult your physician to ensure you have adequate Vitamin D or other supplements throughout the winter (increase foods high in Vitamin D and Omega 3).
  • Increase your exposure to natural daylight – get outdoors.
  • Start a plan to be more active every day.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Try using light therapy with a light therapy box emitting up to 10,000 LUX.
  • Increase your experience of Hygge – the Danish word for ‘Cozy’.
  • Get adequate rest/sleep.
  • Stay connected socially (reach out to others around you who may be in need or get involved in your community).
  • Practice mindfulness/meditation/breathing technique.
  • Consider EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and tap your way to Spring.

If you find yourself in need of more support, reach out to your primary care provider, your company’s Employee Assistance Program, or a friend or relative for help. Help is available.

Resources & Links

  • Suicide Prevention line 1-800-273-8255              
  • Crisis Text Line 741741 |

Debra Niemasz, LICSW, is a counselor with the Employee Wellness team at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

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