Seasonal Sadness: 7 Tips to Make the Colder Months Better

“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept responsibility for changing them” ~Denis Waitley

It’s still summer, and the last thing I want to be thinking about are the cold months ahead. There are still bike rides to take and gardens to enjoy, and I still haven’t taken that kayak ride that I wanted! But in the back of my mind I am already beginning to panic.

Many people in the more northern latitudes feel down in the winter—less energetic, less engaged, less motivated—and those people may start feeling apprehensive as winter approaches.

Other people slip into a bona fide depression, either because they suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or perhaps a predisposition to depression that simply worsens in winter, and those people are the ones who truly panic. I know, because I am one of them.

A few years ago I declared that I was through with suffering through every winter. I was ready to take control of my situation instead of letting the situation control me. That simple decision made all the difference because it changed my attitude.

The first thing I did was to address the biological basis for winter depression.

As the days become shorter and the light becomes less direct, we absorb fewer rays through our eyes. In some people, this leads to a reduction in serotonin (one of the important chemicals in our brain) and thus a reduction in mood and energy.

To combat the lack of sunshine, I purchased and began to use a light box. This is a specially designed light, packing in 10,000 lux. As a point of comparison, the average office is lit to 320 to 500 lux, while the sun provides approximately 10,000 to 25,000 lux in full daylight (more in direct sunlight).

Once I started sitting in front of my light box for 20−30 minutes every morning, I began to feel much more alert and in control. But it was not quite enough. I still felt out of sorts and foggy, like there was a roll of cotton between me and the rest of the world.

Over the next year or two, I learned that to truly cope with my winter funk I had to change the way I responded to not only the season, but the inevitable vagaries of life. 

I needed to begin anticipating problems before they occurred and preparing myself for what was by now a fairly predictable cycle. I’ve put together a list of a few of the lessons I learned during that struggle.

Here are a few things that you can do right now to make your winter better.

1. If you can afford it, buy a light box.

These are amazingly effective if the lack of sunlight gets you down.

2. Soak up the sun.

This may seem obvious, but I want to encourage you to spend as much time outside as possible in the coming months. Not only will it help you store up some sun exposure before it slips away, but when winter comes it will be much easier to make yourself get outside every single day if you are already doing it!

And getting sunlight through the winter is possibly the single most helpful thing you can do for yourself.

3. Plan ahead.

If you exchange gifts with anybody during the winter holidays, try to get them purchased as early as possible, so that you don’t have to worry about them in December. September is not too early to do your Christmas/Yule/Hannukah/Kwanzaa shopping!

4. Buy a day planner (or planner app).

They can be very useful when you are feeling extra distracted and lethargic, which can describe most of us at some point during the winter! And with school starting up again, a whole new crop of “academic” planner that runs August to August (as opposed to the calendar year) are showing up in stores. Take advantage of that.

5. Make a date.

Depression makes us retreat from social contact, but isolation makes depression so much worse. Right now, before you start slipping into sadness mode, identify someone you trust who can serve as a social anchor. Set up weekly, biweekly, or (at the very least) monthly dates to meet up with them to connect.

6. Look forward to fall.

If you know you are prone to seasonal sadness, then the changing leaves and shortening days can feel like a herald of doom. But that kind of thinking will only hasten the oncoming depression, so try to find some way to enjoy the fall!

Get outside for some long walks now that things are cooling down, go apple picking, or find some other way to engage with the season.

7. Just say no.

While it’s important that you make an effort to stay engaged with your friends and activities, you don’t have to do anything you don’t feel up to doing.

If someone asks you to help with something, take up new responsibilities, or just go to a party you aren’t interested in, feel free to decline. Whatever they wanted you to do, it’s not more important than your mental health!

As we inch toward the dark half of the year, I hope you keep some of these tips in mind. Remember: you can take control of your seasonal sadness!

Photo by norsez

About Joanna Weston

Joanna Z. Weston uses crafts and story to guide women out of the shadowy realms of uncertainty, unhappiness, and anxiety, and into the light of confidence, inner peace, and forward momentum. You can find her at

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  • M.

    I must be the only person who finds summer/spring a lot more distressing than winter, especially up here in the north where we get lots of light. I find the unpredictable weather and long emmmpppttty spaces between events etc very stressful. In fall/winter, you have snow and cardigans and scarves. In spring/summer, it’s up to yourself and flipflops to hold it together.

  • This article was very helpful. Thank you!

  • Sherry in Oregon

    Vitamin D supplements are helpful, I’ve found.

  • I actually agree with you, at least to an extent. Fall is my favorite season, and I don’t so much dislike winter, as winter dislikes me. I would be perfectly happy to sit back and enjoy hot chocolate and time indoors if it didn’t mess with my head so much. Seasonal affective disorder is not about disliking the lack of sunlight, but about a biochemical reaction to the lack of sunlight. That, in turn, has led me to dread winter for the simple reason that I know how my body will respond to it.

    Also, there is such a thing as reverse seasonal affective disorder, so there are people who get depressed in the summer, but not winter. So you are not alone. 🙂

  • Your welcome! I’m glad I could help.

  • So I’ve heard! I haven’t gotten around to trying them yet, though, and I try to avoid recommending anything I haven’t tried myself.

  • Fawn

    Thank you for the article. I googled “light box” but all that I could find were links to websites selling devices used by artists and x-ray technicians. Is there another name for this device? Thank you again!! 🙂

  • Fawn

    Never mind, lol. I typed in “light therapy box” and found a ton of them!!

  • Jennifer

    I always feel like I am the only one to feel this way during the winter. Thanks for reminding me that I am not alone!

    Last September, I started taking Sam-e and then Kelp (iodine) in October (both for SAD) and felt like my ‘true’ self emotionally. AND this past Christmas Eve was the first time in 15 yrs that I haven’t cried until 4am when I would finally fall asleep. That was the difference that really made me take notice. I notice a huge difference when I forget to take the supplements, as well as not getting enough sun. Now that it is getting cooler out, I can walk during my lunch break. I especially will do this during winter.

  • Oh dear! I’m really sorry that I didn’t think to find the most google friendly term for it. I’m glad you found them eventually!

  • Sam-e and Kelp, eh? I’ll have to check those out. Thanks for the tip!

  • Jennifer

    Sam-e is used in the UK to help with SAD. I misspoke when I said kelp helps with SAD. I took it for thyroid function and for me the combination of both helped the most with SAD. I apologize for misspeaking about the kelp.

  • rocky

    I felt like this for way too many years and I too made a plan to change. One of the biggest things that I have done is I stopped fighting the cold!! I would dress like it was spring or summer all year and I was miserable and let everyone know it! As soon as I started to dress warmly, and enjoy doing so, it made a huge difference!

  • Fawn

    Oh, no it’s okay, lol. I don’t mind playing around on google. I should have thought to reword it before posting. Thanks again, I found a guide on how to buy the best light box and then I found a really nice one for a great price!! 🙂

  • Ah, ok. That makes perfect sense, though — getting underlying health issues taken care of would improve ones experience of winter considerably!

  • Yes! Admitting that it is winter is the first step to making the best of it. And that is really crucial to healthy coping.

  • Keren

    Or just skip the whole winter thing entirely and hop on a plane to the Southern Hemisphere for a couple of months. (Assuming you don’t have a mortgage or kids.) Last winter was so horrific I’m making like a bird and flying south for the winter! Heading to New Zealand in October. The nights are drawing in already and I cannot wait. I am so excited like I haven’t been since I was six and it was Christmas Eve. But seriously, it is so good to read an article like this and know that I am not alone in suffering so much in winter. Like Joanna said, I don’t hate winter, but it sure hates me! Great article and good discussion as always.

  • lashpal

    After reading this , I realized that i have to arrange light box in my home. Thank you so much.

  • Ah yes, fleeing the cold is also a good plan! A few years ago I managed to spend 2 weeks in Arizona during February, and it did wonders for my mood. Enjoy New Zealand!

  • You’re welcome! Let me know if you want any tips on how to make the best use of it.

  • summerblond

    I, too, have this disorder, and for me the panick starts near the end of June, when we have the longest days, because I know it’s all “down hill” from there! So, I have already been experiencing the depression and anxiety of fall and winter coming.
    This article was great to remind me that there really are other people besides me who get affected by this. It seems that I am the only one in my family and circle of friends who is affected, or at least to a large degree.
    Thank you for writing about your experiences and sharing strategies for dealing with the shorter, darker and colder days to come!

  • TxCoChic

    After moving from Tx to CO, I’ve tried finding things to love about cold weather. Fun winter outfits and boots and scarves, colorful socks and slippers, snuggling under an electric blanket, being mindful of my hands warming up around a warm cup of hot chocolate or tea (I even bought a few fun mugs), etc. I avoid chills by dressing warm, & using a space heater & electric blankets. Find the good. Like instead of my old mindset of dreading the barren trees, I’ve learned to appreciate the beautiful streams and tree shapes and search for nests that are normally hidden by leaves. Even if it’s cold or windy,I am grateful for the sunshine & open all blinds first thing each morning when I wake up. If it’s icky outside, that’s when I put on my pink glitter slippers & colorful socks. I’m also grateful that the lead desirable weather makes me appreciate the great weather even more. I also use the cold months to organize or redecorate my house. This has helped make most of my cold or dreary days better. 🙂