How to Overcome the Winter Blues

It’s winter here in the northern hemisphere. Longer nights. Shorter days. And more bad weather. This can wreak havoc on your emotional system and your overall energy-level. This is particularly important for us as leaders, since our energy is one of the most important things we bring to our teams.

A Woman with the Blues Standing Outside - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/druvo, Image #8709713

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/druvo

I started experiencing mild depression the week before Christmas. For no apparent reason, I started feeling down. This typically began late in the afternoon and continued until bedtime. My energy level was low, and I had a difficult time focusing.

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One evening, I shared my experience with a friend. He said he was going through the exact same thing. A few nights ago, another friend told me she had similar symptoms. I thought, I’ll bet this is more common than I initially thought.

Obviously, if someone is experiencing severe depression, they need to seek professional help. I have friends whose lives have been transformed by antidepressants. However, I fear that some people resort to medication prematurely, before making sure they have the basics covered.

Here are four items to consider before talking to a professional:

  1. Sleep. Too many of us try to burn the candle at both ends. I could get away with this when I was younger, but not now. I need seven hours a sleep a night. Period. I had drifted into a pattern of staying up later than usual while still trying to get up at my normal time. Bad idea.
  2. Sunlight. This is important to our physical and emotional health. When a deficiency leads to depression, it is called “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD). The good news is that you can address this with a simple gadget that replicates sunlight. I bought the Philips goLITE BLUE Light Therapy Device. I have been using it for 30 minutes a day while reading in the morning. Not only do I have more energy, I am sleeping better.
  3. Vitamins. I had let my supply of multivitamins run out. , even though I know vitamins—especially antioxidants—help my body cope with stress. Therefore, I bought a 60-day supply of multivitamins and resumed my regimen. I try to keep this simple. In the past, I have taken a handful of supplements daily and found it difficult time to be consistent, especially when traveling. Now, I take only four capsules a day.
  4. Exercise. I’m embarrassed to say I was not being consistent here either. Gail and I were hiking on Saturdays, and I was walking or running one other time a week. But this proved insufficient to keeping my energy level up. With the new year, I made a commitment to get back to my four-day-a-week running routine.

I’m happy to report that addressing these four issues did the trick. This won’t work for everyone. But for me, it was enough to make the clouds dissipate. I have not experienced the blues for more than a week.

Questions: Do you ever struggle with the winter blues? What do you do to cope? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Michael

    I try to read books which are uplifting and / or fun reading. I try to move away from what I need to read. I also listen to music which I like. I put on my headphones which drowns out all other noise and walk or kick back and listen.

  • http://www.manyhatsmommy.blogspot.com Jenny

    I’ll add music, prayer, and reading Scripture. Oh, and also asking someone to pray for me when I’m feeling desperate.

  • Jeffferguson

    Wow! I bet more people experience this than what they even realize. Thank you for sharing this list. I am sure for most of us this would do the trick during the winter months. Thanks!

  • Shari Brown

    Rickly and I have the same solution. I have 3-4 upbeat mixes in itunes and they rotate through my ipod. Playing music with friends is also very helpful and just getting out of the house makes a big difference. I usually take my camera and try to go on a few snow walks every winter as well.

  • http://coachradio.tv/ Justin Lukasavige

    Great tips, Michael. Exercise is the big thing for me. Every Friday I hike about 10 miles (http://coachradio.tv/trailtalk) and that keeps me very sane. I needed it badly yesterday, and do it no matter the weather. Recently we got a wii fit and I’ve found it a fun, challenging way to keep it up when it’s tough to get outside.

  • http://coachradio.tv/ Justin Lukasavige

    Great tips, Michael. Exercise is the big thing for me. Every Friday I hike about 10 miles (http://coachradio.tv/trailtalk) and that keeps me very sane. I needed it badly yesterday, and do it no matter the weather. Recently we got a wii fit and I’ve found it a fun, challenging way to keep it up when it’s tough to get outside.

  • http://www.liveonpurposecoach.com Dwright

    I love all of your suggestions. I have also found that listeneing to personal development cd’s in my car is very powerful. I especially love the cd’s in the monthly edition of Success magazine because of the variety of speakers who are featured. I try to listen first thing because it sets the tone for the day especially if I have not had an opportunity to read before I leave home. When I do both, it makes for an outstanding day!

  • DrDavidFrisbie

    Thanks for this post! Seasonal affective disorder is absolutely real. All four of your recommendations are strong, especially physical exercise. Also recommended where applicable: marital intimacy, moderate intake of caffeine, moderate intake of dark chocolate.

  • Vicky

    Yes, yes, yes, yes to each one above. I used to work in a doctors office and amazed at the low levels of vitamin D in so many and not just in winter months. Great tips for winter blues!

  • TNeal

    I’m a South Texan living in Wisconsin so I know how crushing the winter-time blues can be. Thankfully we do see the sun more often than when when my family and I lived in northern Wisconsin (two weeks of sunshine out of five winter months). Surprisingly, before Christmas, I got too much sleep and became lethargic. Temps hovering near zero just made me pull up the covers instead of getting out of bed to join my early morning basketball buddies.

    I told one church friend I’d see him Monday morning at the gym and I did. I haven’t missed a single morning session since. The difference in my attitude and energy level has been palpable and my productivity increased from day one.

    For me, exercise trumps sleep in the battle of the blues–not that I’m sleep deprived. Also accountability to a friend or two pushes me to make the right decisions (whether it’s exercise or living out my faith).

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      These are great suggestions. It is good to have the accountability of a friend.

  • Ramon Presson

    As a therapist, an author of a book on depression “Beyond the Shadows” (LifeWay/Serendipity), and one who has experienced it, I affirm your recommendations. Several of your suggestions can be seen in further detail in Dr. Stephen Ilardi’s new book “The Depression Cure”.
    Ilardi, a Duke University clinician, outlines 6 vital activities/strategies including exercise, nutrition, light therapy, adequate sleep, socialization, and avoiding rumination of counter-productive thought (more DOING and less obsessive THINKING). Ilardi shows how we have expected how our bodies to adjust to our lifestyle, not adjusted our lifestyle habits to the way God designed our bodies.
    Despite the book’s subtitle author is quick to caution any unsupervised or unapproved ceasing of medication with doctor’s knowledge. But studies are showing inadequacy of medication in many cases. Book is well researched and documented.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This sounds like a great book. I will get it. Thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/joesheehan Joe Sheehan

    Great post Michael. I was burning “both ends”, as you put it, a few years back. After not much success, I mentioned it to my doctor at my regular checkup and turned out I had developed a minor (and easily manageable) thyroid disease. And I just figured it was because I was soon to be entering my 30′s. Ha!

    A friend told me last night how low energy was his only symptom of what was tested to be celiac disease.

    Low energy is one of those things your readers should mention to a doctor if it persists.

  • http://twitter.com/B_Schebs Brent Schebler

    I live in the Midwest section of the US and winter blues seem to get a lot of people down. For me, I actullay embrace and enjoy the winter months. I know it is going to Snow and sleet and I just look at how beautiful it makes the trees look. That is how I have coped with the “winter Blues”

  • http://twitter.com/MattBeard Matt Beard

    Thanks so much for the tips, especially about the light therapy. I wondered if those were effective but didn’t want to shell out the cash until I saw something from someone whose opinion I trust.

  • http://onstagetechnologies.com Scott Kantner

    I will probably be the outlier on this one, as my reaction is completely the opposite. The natural brightness that comes off of snow-covered ground on a cold gray day works better for me than the low-angle, sort of washed-out sunlight we get in the northeast on a clear winter day. What depresses me is day after day of sunny, no-change-in-the-weather days. I enjoy the changes of winter weather – it puts a buzz in the air and keeps things interesting .

  • Jeff Jones

    Thank you for helpful hints. I know this is more and more common or, at least, more people are willing to admit to it. My biggest difficulty is extinguishing the candle so I can do some of the other tips. I think I use the pace to keep me from thinking about things that I a) need to think about so I can move past them or b) thinking about things that hurt and I want to avoid.

    I’m headed home a little early today to fire up the treadmill and try to get back on track.

  • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

    Dealig with the blues isn’t something I have to cope with often, butthey do hit occasionally. When they do, I try to spend time in the Word, focu on my family, and orient myself toward serving someone else. In other words, get my focus off of me.

  • http://jeffgoins.myadventures.org Jeff Goins

    Great list. When I’m feeling a bit under the weather or like I’m starting to catch a cold (my body usually tells me ahead of time), I usually take Emergen-C. It energizes me better than coffee and fights off any coming infection/sickness. Between that and drinking an inordinate amount of water, I rarely get sick.

    I also try to use the winter time (trying to, anyway) to get into better shape so that I can enjoy the spring/summer (instead of getting fat in the winter and trying to lose the weight when it’s warm — which was a terrible cycle I was in for a couple of years).

  • Kima

    Thanks, Michael, for your post. I’ve struggled with SAD for years and have lived in the Chicago area all my life. The sun seems to disappear for most of January and February and those are hard months for me. I find it helpful to have something to look forward to, especially a trip to the beach in the winter months. It fills my soul.

    I received a gift card for Christmas and have decided that I’m going to buy the light you recommended. I’ve wanted one for years and your post pushed me to action. Thank you!

    Most of my friends and family members don’t understand how the weather so severely affects me. Thank you for reminding me that I’m not alone and not crazy to have SAD symptoms. Blessings to you!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I have found huge relief in the light. Your mileage may vary, but, for me, it was just the ticket.

  • http://www.defineddesign.com Lisa

    Thanks Michael.

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  • http://twitter.com/jonwellman Jon Wellman

    If you don’t mind my asking… what four capsules do you take daily?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I take the Garden of Life Living Multi, Optimal Men’s Formula. Two capsules in the morning and two in the evening.

  • Larrytindall

    4 basic human needs for which American “JonQPublic” seems too busy. No wonder we feel so overwhelmed and sluggish!

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  • Angelface107

    I already do 3 out of the 4 things on this list.  I am already on antidepressants but it doesn’t ever help the winter blues.  The only one that I don’t already do is the sun lamp….do you have any other suggestions?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      The sun lamp made a huge difference for me.

  • http://twitter.com/PatWooldridge Patricia Wooldridge

    Hello, Michael,
    Year ’round, I’m consistently doing something, whether creating artwork, writing, reading books, doing volunteer work, and keeping the house clean;the dog, the inside birds (2) and the outdoor birds fed; lawn mowed/snow shoveled (in whichever season) and writing to and visiting with, family. All of this just keeps on keeping on, so I’m busy. I get enough sleep and good food, and if I want to start a fire in the fireplace and lie down with a good book, I do that. In summer, the screened porch takes the place of a fire. It’s nice to relax either way. All in all, the blues don’t seem to catch up to me. Maybe I’m just not susceptible to them, I don’t know.

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  • sarah c.

    I ended up here through a link from allisonvesterfelt.com. This is great advice and for myself I would have to include for any animal lover to get a dog, a cat, a bird, a shetland pony, whatever works for you.  They are life savers especially if you are an experienced pet owner or you are prepared as a first time owner to take care of one. They will most definitely take care of you back. Look at local shelters, you would be surprised what you find.

  • Joline Atkins

    I do! Hand raised!!!!!
    I have turned to exercise, really solid nutrition, and vitamins. Trying to decided on a therapy lamp. Thank you this piece! I had no idea you struggled also!