The Winter Blues

It’s a common saying these days… “I’ve got the winter blues” but what does it mean and why do we experience this phenomenon? The term blues has become synonymous with sadness and depression since the 16th Century. Blueswas shortened from ‘blue devils’ from 1616 and during the 18th Century, it was further shortened to ‘blues’. Towards the end of the 19th Century we saw the rise of the blues music – a type of melancholic jazz music that derived from the sadness of funeral songs of slavery and oppression.

There is much written about feeling blue or sad during the winter months and psychologically, this is a diagnosable condition. The essential features of this is the feeling of low mood, flatness, melancholic or depressed. In addition, people may notice problems with sleep, concentration, feeling agitated, poor motivation and energy levels or changes in appetite. The onset of this is typically when the season changes to winter. There are a number of possible explanations for why this occurs. The first is related to light. We all know that daylight is important for mood so in the winter months, when there is less sunshine and daylight, people may experience changes in mood. The lack of light affects our body and sleep rhythm and can even create hormonal imbalances. Also during winter, our outdoor options may be limited where we are unable to do as much of the usual things with nature that make us feel connected and grounded.

It is important to be aware of how the winter months affect your mood. Do you notice changes in yourself over winter? Do you dread winter? Do you stop doing things that you would normally do? Have others commented on how your mood changes over winter? Checking in with ourselves and noticing either subtle or big changes is the first step. If you are impacted by seasonal change, the second step is to change your winter routine. Just like you have a summer and winter wardrobe with clothes, see if you can extend this to a lifestyle change. Plan for winter activities such as visiting the snow. Mindfully notice the beautiful changes in nature as trees change colour and shed their leaves. Prepare wholesome winter recipes that keep you warm on a cold winter day. Stock up on fun family activities such as board games so you can enjoy indoor space together. The aim here is to embrace the winter months as an opportunity to do things you wouldn’t get to do in the summer.

For some, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a serious and problematic mental health concern and so, if you become significantly depressed during winter, it may be important to consult with a psychologist for a more comprehensive assessment and support. Psychologists can help you develop strategies that manage symptoms of depression and some basic changes can yield long-term, positive outcomes.
The take home message is that winter doesn’t have to be blue…

Hita Mistry

Principal Clinical & Forensic Psychologisy