Seasonal Depression: 14 Ways to Combat the Winter Blues

While some love the winter holidays, for others they represent stress… and depression. Here are 14 science-backed ways to combat seasonal depression.
seasonal depression

It’s December. For many, this month means holidays, gifts, and food, drink, and general merriment with friends and family. But for many others, December brings on loneliness, stress, and the gift nobody ever asked for: seasonal depression.

Holidays can be fun and relaxing, but they can also be costly and time-consuming, not to mention stir up family issues and trigger mental struggles. It doesn’t help that December marks the time of year where the days are shortest, at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere, and decreased sunlight can mess with your mood.

For some, all of this can cause depression to rear its dark head and pull you downhill.

In addition, our brains work in such a way that the more negative or depressed we feel, the more everything looks negative. Studies have shown that people with depression perceive situations and events more negatively than others.

The more negativity you see, the farther down you go. This “downward spiral” can lead to depression or, if you already struggle with it, can make it worse.

But what if you could do something to combat this downward trajectory when the days get shorter and holiday craziness kicks in? What if you could trigger an “upward spiral” to beat seasonal depression?

The Upward Spiral

Years ago, I came across a great book called The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of depression, One Small Change at a Time1 by Alex Korb, PhD.

The book could be called “Your Brain on Depression.” The author explains in pretty straightforward language how the brain works, and how it can form circuits to get you into, and keep you in, a depressed state.

The author’s advice? Do something that will trigger an upward spiral. In other words, do one thing that makes you feel good, which leads to a better mood, which leads to another positive action, and so on.

So what actions can you take to improve your mood and trigger an upward spiral when you experience depression?

14 Tips for Combatting Seasonal Depression

The following list includes some tips from The Upward Spiral as well as a few others, all of which have scientific evidence showing that they work. The book has many, many more suggestions as well.

How do these activities work to alleviate depression?

In a nutshell, they trigger your brain’s feel-good chemicals (serotonin, dopamine, and/or oxytocin), which is what you need if depression strikes.

Get Moving

  1. Exercise. A simple short walk is enough.
  2. Go outside, especially in nature. Yes, it’s cold, but take from me, someone who’s more cold-sensitive than most, it’s worth it. I bundle up and now love walking or hiking in winter.
  3. Do yoga. Yoga helps with all kinds of things, and mood is no exception.

Interact with Fellow Humans

  1. Be around people, even strangers, even if you don’t want to. You don’t have to talk to anyone, but the presents of other people can help trigger the goodness.
  2. Spend time with friends and seek in-person social interactions. An activity where you don’t even talk, such as a movie, can help too.
  3. Talk to strangers.
  4. Hug someone or shake their hand. Physical contact raises oxytocin levels.

Work on Yourself

  1. Meditate. Regular meditation has been shown to reduce depression.
  2. See a therapist. Talking to an expert can help get the ball rolling and generate that upward spiral.
  3. Change your environment (your home, job, take a vacation, etc.). A change in your surrounds can trigger a change in habits.

Revisit the Fundamentals

  1. Get sunlight. Real sunlight beats the artificial stuff by a lot.
  2. Listen to music. Better yet, double up and listen to music while exercising.
  3. List what you’re grateful for in life, preferably every day.
  4. Buy a lightbox and use it daily. Sunlight is great, but sometimes you can’t get there. Lightboxes work, but be sure to buy the right one.

I’ve been known to get mild seasonal depression, especially after the holidays are over. I’ve tried many of these, and they work.

Start with one, and go from there.

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The Rogue Scientist

Christie Hartman is a writer and scientist specializing in science-based health. A biology major as an undergrad, she completed her PhD in behavioral genetics at the University of Colorado Boulder. Before starting her writing career, she worked as a scientist and professor at CU’s School of Medicine, where she studied the genetic contributions to substance abuse and antisocial behavior.

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