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Tackle the Winter Blues with Mental Health First Aid

It is that time of year again. The air is crisp; 6 p.m. looks like midnight; and it feels difficult to adjust. Many of us can relate – we have lost an hour of sunlight because of Daylight Savings Time, and it may have an impact on our mental health.

Maia, a songwriter from California told NPR that when she was a teen, she noticed that she didn’t feel like herself in the winter months. She found herself “just lying there for hours and hours, not knowing how to get out of bed and move or do anything. I went on Twitter and I was like, am I crazy? Because I feel really sad right now.”

You may be familiar with feeling the winter blues or know someone who struggles a little more as the temperature starts to drop. For some, it may be an adjustment to seasonal changes. But for others, it can be more serious and affect their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression people experience as the seasons change, most commonly beginning in the late fall or early winter and lasting until spring and summer. Symptoms can vary for each person and include social withdrawal, oversleeping, low energy, and difficulty concentrating. For Maia, symptoms included difficulty doing routine things, like eating and drinking water.

Many of us are spending the winter months at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The effect of physical distancing, coupled with feeling the winter blues or experiencing SAD, can make things even more difficult. It’s important to know how to take care of yourself and your mental health, especially if you notice you’re struggling during the colder months.

Use these tips from the Mental Health First Aid curriculum to take care of your mental health and well-being this winter.

  1. Build a toolkit. This is going to be your guide for coping with the winter blues. Take time to think about your favorite things to do and what makes you happy. Maybe it is trying a new recipe, listening to a new playlist, having a movie marathon, or playing a board game with your loved ones. Write down the activities you enjoy on small pieces of paper and place them in a container. When you are feeling down, pick one (or two or three) to try.
  2. Practice wellness and reflection. Try to be present in your days, both good and bad. It is OK to not be OK, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to always be your best. Reflecting by journaling or meditating can help you remember what you are grateful for or bring up a memory that makes you smile.
  3. Give support and information. If you notice someone close to you struggling, offer your support when you are able. Give reassurance by empathizing with their experiences, offering emotional support, and providing mental health resources.
  4. Ask for help. If you feel yourself experiencing sadness or anxiety for an extended period, ask for professional help. Talk to your primary care physician or a mental health professional for additional information and support. Support groups, faith communities, and peer counselors can also be helpful places for support.

The colder days can be difficult, but with tips and resources from Mental Health First Aid you can tackle the winter blues and #BeTheDifference for yourself and those around you this winter.