How to Cope with Our Long, Cold, Dreary Winter - Ascension Wisconsin

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Published on January 22, 2018

How to Cope with Our Long, Cold, Dreary Winter

By Carol Hess, LCSW, Psychotherapist

The holidays are long over, but the winter weather remains bitter cold with no signs of spring on the horizon. For those having difficulty dealing with the long winter season, read on!

Seasonal Affective Disorder 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that is cyclical and seasonal, meaning that it comes and goes around the same time every year. SAD is more than the winter blues or cabin fever. Many people tend to overeat, sleep more, and get cabin fever during the winter months.

SAD is a type of depressive disorder that affects approximately 4-6% of the population. SAD occurs during the months of the year with the least amount of sunlight, typically in areas where there is less daylight and colder temperatures.   

Common SAD Symptoms

  • Feeling tired or lethargic – loss of energy
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Eating more than usual with possible weight gain
  • Feeling sad or irritable


The exact causes of SAD are not known. Some researchers think that reduced sunlight causes a biochemical shift, which triggers depression. Other experts have examined connections between sunlight and the body’s daily circadian rhythms as a possible cause. Heredity may play a role, as well as stress.

Remedies for SAD and Winter Blues

  • Spend time outdoors! Yes, it’s cold, but if you bundle up, dress in layers and get outside during daylight hours – even if it’s only 30 minutes per day – this can make a difference in your mood, energy, and overall coping.
  • Maintain a regular schedule. Try to go to sleep at the same time and get the same amount of sleep to keep your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) in sync. 
  • Keep moving. A great way to alleviate stress, exercise is good for physical and emotional health – especially during the more sedentary winter months. 
  • Consider investing in a light box. Light therapy can help alleviate SAD symptoms. Check with a healthcare professional regarding the type and intensity of light box to optimally treat your symptoms. 
  • Medication. Antidepressant medication may be beneficial. Talk with your primary care provider or consult a mental health professional. 
  • Talk therapy. Counseling is often a useful strategy to cope with SAD. Therapy helps identify and modify negative thoughts and behaviors that impact mood.
  • Keep busy with indoor projects. For example, someone who loves gardening can spend time indoors perusing gardening books and planning the next planting season. 
  • Socialize. Make plans with friends and family to do fun things even if those activities are indoors. For example, rotate a movie or cooking night; or start a book club. 

For More Information

For more information on treatment for SAD or other concerns, call Wheaton Franciscan Mental Health & Addiction Care outpatient counseling:

  • Milwaukee/Waukesha Area: 414-875-4560
  • Racine/Kenosha/Burlington Area: 262-687-2273

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How to Cope with Our Long, Cold, Dreary Winter