Written By: Leah Liu, MCP, Registered Clinical Counsellor
How’s your autumn been so far? Although the warm weather and the sun have stayed with us much longer this year, the days are nevertheless, getting shorter and shorter, and the darkness and cold are coming!
Are you ready for winter?
It is common for some of us to feel the winter blues. Here’s a quick check so see if you’ve experienced the winter blues in the past.
- Physical symptoms: low energy, appetite changes, muscle tension, tiredness, pain
- Emotional symptoms: sadness, anxiety, feeling blue, decreased enjoyment or interest in things, irritability
- Cognitive symptoms: trouble concentrating, negative thoughts about winter
- Behavioral symptoms: less active, withdrawing from people, sleep issues
If you have experienced some of the above symptoms, you may have the winter blues. Notice the cycle that drives it:
Over time with this cycle, your negative thoughts get reinforced, your blue mood intensifies, your energy level drops, and you end up doing fewer enjoyable activities. This never-ending loop may make you feel worse and worse over the season.
Now that you understand this vicious cycle, want to know how to break it?
Here are 4 steps you can take to cope with the winter blues:
1. Identify your thoughts
First, start notice your thoughts. Here are some common unhelpful thoughts people have during the winter:
- “Winter is bad and summer is good.” (All-or-nothing thinking)
- “Winter is horrible! This cold, dark weather will never go away. I’m going to feel bad for the whole winter.” (Magnification)
- “Why bother trying to do anything this winter? I’ll still feel bad anyway.” (Minimization)
- “What’s wrong with me. I should be able to cope with the dark and cold like everyone else.” (“Should” statements and Comparison)
To identify your own unhelpful thoughts, you can write a thought diary to track your thoughts, and find the common themes about your unhelpful thoughts.
2. Evaluate your thoughts
Ask yourself the following questions to evaluate your thoughts:
- Is there any other way to view or think about this situation?
- What would be a more accurate and realistic thought to have?
- What would be a more helpful thought to have?
If you see words like the following in your automatic thoughts, question them:
- “Should” (Question: Why should I?)
- “Terrible, awful, etc.” (Question: Is it really that bad? What is the worst thing that could happen? Could I survive it?)
- “Always” (Question: Is it really always or is it just this time or some of the time?)
3. Build a new thought
After evaluating your thoughts, you can build a new thought to replace the original one.
It’s not necessary to come up with overly positive new thoughts (and you can’t be convinced anyway). Instead, come up with a rational response that is more realistic and believable, so you can accept it.
Some new thoughts could be:
- I have some good days in the winter.
- Although it is cold in the winter, there are some good weather and sunshine too.
- Tomorrow might be cloudy, or it might also be sunny. If it is sunny, I’ll let myself enjoy the sunshine.
- I can learn some strategies to better cope with the winter season.
4. Plan pleasurable activities
Finally, if you feel blue, make an effort to cheer yourself up. Plan at least one fun and pleasurable activity each day that makes you feel good and happy.
Here are some ideas:
- Spend time with friends or family
- Go on a date
- Cook and bake
- Be out in nature
- Play games
- Repair something
- Learn something new
- Dress up
- Laugh or tell jokes
Now that you have this tool, you will have an easier time with the winter blues this year. The more you practice these steps, the more you will feel confident to beat the winter blues!
To get more support with your winter blues, contact us at Brentwood Counselling Centre today.
Kelly J Rohan. (2008). Coping with the seasons: A cognitive behavioral approach to seasonal affective disorder, therapist guide. OUP USA.