Combating the Winter Blues

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The most depressing day of the year, according to some, falls on the last Monday in January every year. Whether you experience blues on that particular day, it is not unusual to feel down during the first month of the year.

The reasons for this seem legion: although we are past the solstice, the return of sunlight is slow creating fewer opportunities to be out in it during the day. The holiday season, with its days off and parties and family are over. While this may not always feel like a downer, the stress (both good and bad) produced hormones that take their toll on your system. You may feel physically wiped out by this. Then there is the psychological let down that somehow from December 31st to January 1st, life will have changed. New beginnings aren’t always as clear cut or easy as one might expect.

It is the perfect storm for the Winter Blues. I frequently hear friends, colleagues, or clients express a sense of this. Although some of these people may be experiencing a worsening of depression or a bout of seasonal affective disorder, for most it is not as debilitating but still confusing. It can be frustrating in the face of a cultural idea that we should be working on resolutions right now and feeling empowered.

There is no magic pill; however, it is important to do what you can to cope with this. I try to help friends and clients see that this is a common problem, and that it often passes as we move out of colder months. However, there are some other things that may help restore a feeling of contentment:

Vitamin D – new research has come out in the last about the importance of Vitamin D to mood and well-being. It turns out that a significant portion of people are deficient in this key vitamin, and during the winter less of us can be out in the sun to start the natural production in our bodies. Supplementing seems to be a viable option and should be checked out with your doctor.

Exercise – we all know the drill. Exercise is good for us. But it also feels good when you get past the initial soreness and resistance to establishing a new routine. The body produces pleasure inducing endorphins to encourage the behavior. Although many experts would recommend 30 minutes at least 3 times a week, just getting your heart rate up for 10 minutes a day a few times a week is a great starting point.

Sleep – sleep has recently been correlated with increased longevity in several studies. The experts recommend 7-9 hours per night, consistently. Although, I love my naps (and know others that do as well), it turns out that napping may not be as effective supplementing sleep if you were unable to sleep a full night. Indeed, regular naps may disrupt a full night’s sleep.

Indulge your need for comfort – warm baths, massage, play time with a pet or someone who brings out the child in you, snuggling, or sex: whatever turns up the pleasure centers in your brain. Indeed, bring out your guilty pleasures full force, if needed, to soothe the blues.

The key is remembering that, for most people, these blues do ebb away. You do not feel this way all the time and it’s important to be gentle with yourself and polish up those self-care skills while you do.

Expert Author Kari PetersenKari Petersen, LCSW, provides individual and couples/relationship therapy in Emeryville, CA. Check out my website at

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