If the cold winter months bring on lower moods and tiredness, you are certainly not alone. When the temperatures drop and the sun sets before the workday is over, many people tend to feel a little blue — especially now that the holiday season is completely over and the onslaught of constant festivities has come to an abrupt halt. This time of year, we end up at home more often, and socialize a bit less, so it’s only natural that our spirits are not as lifted as they may be during the warmer seasons. This, of course, isn’t unique to Hoboken, but we spoke to some local therapists about how to take care of our mental health during the winter, and they filled us in on tips and tricks to combat the winter blues. Read on for some advice from local therapists about how to beat the winter blues.
Please note: For some, this struggle can go beyond just feeling a little down. According to Hoboken’s own Dr. Marie McCabe, “it can develop into Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), fundamentally a persistent and sometimes debilitating depression, often only experienced during the winter months.” If you are struggling, please reach out to a therapist for more information and resources.
Why So Blue?
The Winter Blues may come out of nowhere or slowly creep in, but once they’re there, it’s difficult to shake them, which is why taking care of our mental health is especially important in the wintertime. We tend to stay inside more, sometimes even cancel plans because it’s too cold to go outside, and overall we experience a slower pace of life. Founder of Starr Therapy, Talia Filippelli, LCSW, CHHC, CPT, explains why we can feel this way:
“Less sunlight in the winter months triggers a shift in our biological clock. Our internal biological clock is connected to our mood, sleep, and hormones. As you can imagine, these three things are all major contributors to our overall happiness, which makes managing our mental health during wintertime a little tricky. Less vitamin D means lower levels of serotonin, and results in low mood. Sleep cycles are also thrown off by the change in sunlight, especially for people waking up and commuting home in the dark.”
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So, How Can We Fight It?
Thankfully, there are several ways to combat the winter blues. These may not be foolproof techniques, but they can help lift your mood and keep your mental health a priority.
Get Outside + Get Moving
We know, we know, it’s cold out there, But trust us — and the licensed professionals — this is the best way to get that Vitamin D and serotonin boost that Talia was talking about. Even though being out in the cold is not very fun for most, being out in nature and getting a bit of movement in can make a huge difference.
Dr. Marie McCabe explained that “When the body moves, it produces the right chemicals that combat depression — dopamine and serotonin elevate mood.”
Courtney Glashow, LCSW, owner and psychotherapist at Anchor Therapy, understands that getting moving can be hard at times, especially when it is freezing outside. She suggests trying to be mindful of getting at least 30 minutes of movement in every day. “It can be dancing in your living room or going for a brisk walk outside while bundled up. Any movement counts!”
A good motivator to get outside and move is accessorizing. Jessica Kasevich, MSW, LCSW, of JK Therapy in Hoboken suggests using this as an opportunity to buy some new, warm accessories that will excite you. Buy a cute new scarf, or a warm jacket you’ve been eyeing. While going outside may not be appealing, it can be fun to get new clothes and take them out for a spin. That’s right, you were just told by a professional that you absolutely should go shopping — for your health!
Start With a Morning Routine
Steven Bielarski, LCSW, emphasized the importance of a morning routine. “People with a solid morning routine are shown to live longer, healthier lives,” he explained. Instead of rolling out of bed and turning on your computer if you work from home, take some time before work to focus on yourself.
He suggests using a three-prong routine: Hydrate, meditate, and exercise. The routine doesn’t need to be long. Drinking a large cup of water first thing in the morning, spending 10 minutes with a mindful meditation — try the Headspace app to get started — and moving for even just 10 minutes in the morning can make a huge difference in your day-to-day mood. It can be difficult to actually start creating this habit, but Steven urges that it will be worth the effort. Keep it simple at first, and make it something you can really stick to.
Make Your Home a Sanctuary
Charlene Juengling of Wellness Counseling advised that making a comfortable environment while you are home is key to keeping a more positive mood. If the winter is keeping you indoors more often, then make sure it is a place you enjoy spending time. Use soft lighting, by setting up lamps, string lights, or using candles to set a comfortable and cozy vibe. Bring out the warmest blankets you can find and enjoy what your home has to offer. The winter season is a time for rest, Charlene says. Don’t worry about being overly productive. Instead, enjoy the time for relaxation and use it wisely.
Find a Winter-Friendly Hobby
If your social calendar and activity levels tend to slow down during the colder months, use the newly-found free time as an opportunity to pick up a new hobby. If winter sports are your thing, planning a trip to go skiing, snowboarding, or ice skating can help give you something to look forward to. There are also plenty of indoor hobbies to try out.
Courtney Glashow suggests joining an indoor sports league, taking a pottery class, going to a fitness studio, joining a book club, or other activities that can also be used as a social activity. Solo hobbies are also great. Try embroidery, painting, paint by numbers, coloring, or anything else that interests you.
One of the main reasons the winter can cause lower moods is a lack of socialization. We tend to stay home more and socialize less, which creates a sense of isolation. Isolation has a negative effect on our mental health, so keeping an active social calendar is a great way to keep your spirits lifted.
Courtney Glashow suggests creating a list of a few people who you are close with and reaching out to them through text, email, phone call, or video chat just to check in and say hello. Not only is this helpful to you, but the person you are reaching out to may also feel similarly and find it comforting to connect. Dr. Marie McCabe says “schedule your joy. Plan to meet friends to dance, attend a comedy or Broadway show, a music event, go to a restaurant and share a meal with someone or a group of friends.” Connecting with those around you is crucial to staying positive, and the wintertime requires making that extra effort to stay in touch.
If working from home, isolation can particularly be an issue. Jessica Kasevich recommends going to a coffee shop to work, if you are able. Even just being around people can be beneficial, regardless of interaction level.
Connecting in person is particularly important. Steven Bielarski suggests limiting time on social media. As schedules free up in the winter, it can be easy to get stuck in the “doom scroll” loop, of just scrolling endlessly through social media. Steven warns of “comparing and despairing,” which can really take a toll on one’s mental health. He suggests carving out a short amount of time each day for social media, and limiting the time spent on it.
All of the therapists we spoke to agree that movement and socialization are the top ways to beat the winter blues, in addition to keeping a healthy diet. Get some sun, get cozy, and embrace the slowness of the winter season. Jessica Kasevich of JK Therapy likes to ask her clients the question “is what you’re doing helping or hindering your happiness?” She finds that asking this question regularly helps check in with behaviors and adjust accordingly.
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For anyone who is struggling, we encourage you to reach out to a mental health professional. Below you will find the contact information for all contributing therapists.
LCSW + owner + psychotherapist at Anchor Therapy
Reach out here.
Dr. Marie McCabe
McCabe Counseling Services, P.C.
Talia Filippelli, LCSW, CHHC, CPT
Founder of Starr Therapy
More info here.
Jessica Kasevich, MSW, LCSW
More info here.
Charlene Juengling, MA, Ed.S., LAC
Licensed Social Worker + Therapist with Wellness Counseling
Taylor Pini, MA, LPC