When the hustle and bustle of the holiday season comes to an end and the winter months set in, many older adults may find themselves feeling blue. Whether it is due to the cold weather, shorter days, or the holidays coming and going in a flash as they always do, seasonal sadness is common this time of year and can creep into your mind unexpectedly.
If you or a loved one are experiencing feelings of sadness or lack of motivation, don't worry. Our list of tips to beat the winter blues are easy to integrate into your daily routine and will give you the boost you need to get through the season.
1. Brighten Your Home
One of the reasons the winter blues, officially known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is the most common during the winter is due to the less than adequate access to sunlight. When the days are shorter and the sun is in hibernation, it can be easy to develop feelings of sadness or bleakness. Consider purchasing items for your home such as sun lamps or light fixtures with warm lighting to make your space as comfortable and warm as possible. Even establishing a normal routine of opening your blinds and curtains during the day can help get you a little extra boost of sunshine.
Tool Tip: While vitamin D is mainly used to regulate calcium and phosphate to keep your bones, teeth, and muscles healthy, preliminary research suggests that getting enough levels of vitamin D is associated with a lower risk of mental health issues, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.1
Alternatively, taking supplements such as vitamin D or eating vitamin D-rich foods such as fish can help with improving the winter blues and overall mental health. While doctors state that the research on the connection between vitamin D and depression is too preliminary to prescribe it as treatment, it has many health benefits.2
3. Stick to a Schedule
When the winter blues hit, it can be difficult to maintain activities of daily living or uphold a schedule. Participating in activities or any sort of socialization can seem daunting, which allows for possible isolation and increased sadness. However, maintaining a routine and sticking to habits can have a significant benefit when you are feeling down.
For example, if you wake up at a certain time every day or cook yourself dinner at least three times per week, stick to that same routine to build or maintain a habitual schedule. If you attend a Sunday service at your church or meet up with friends for cards once per week, don't skip it this time of year.
4. Stay Active and Eat a Balanced Diet
Exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet can be essential for older adults and is a great way to boost mood and energy levels, especially in the winter months. Nourish your body with plenty of whole foods, and avoid things such as processed food and unhealthy snacks. Depending on where you live, consider exercising indoors. Or, if you want some fresh air, dress in layers and enjoy the sunshine! Activities such as walking, lifting weights, and riding a stationary bike are great ways to incorporate regular exercise into your routine and will help you get rid of the winter blues.
Tool Tip: Want to start exercising but aren't sure where to begin? Check out or guide to workouts and exercises for seniors.
5. Scratch Your Creative Itch
When winter is in full swing, picking up a creative hobby or discovering something new you enjoy can be a good distraction. Whether you are interested in arts and crafts, gardening (if you live in a Southern state), or listening to podcasts or audiobooks, there is something to suit any interest. Brain games such as crosswords are also incredibly beneficial for cognitive function and can decrease anxiety levels, so there are plenty of benefits to think about when picking up a hobby.
6. Accomplish a Goal
Setting attainable goals for yourself can be a great way to build motivation and incentive, particularly if the winter blues are making you feel heavy. Consider making a to-do list for more simple and mundane tasks that are easily achievable and a separate list for bigger goals, such as New Year’s resolutions. No matter the size of the goal, setting your mind toward achievement can be beneficial to emotional well-being and give you the boost you need this winter.
FYI: Want to make a list of goals? Use AARP's goal setting worksheet to get started.
7. Ask for Help When You Need It
While the previously mentioned tips and tricks are ideal for getting through the winter blues, you may struggle with a slump you can't climb out of, which is why it is crucial to pay attention to the distinction of SAD and clinical depression.
While the winter blues can mimic similar symptoms of depression such as lack of motivation, fatigue, and feelings of sadness, SAD comes and goes with the winter season, whereas clinical depression stays year-round. Vaile Wright, senior director of health care innovation at the American Psychological Association, says that the hallmark sign of the winter blues is that it comes and goes; it doesn't last for weeks at a time.
Not sure if you're experiencing the winter blues or depression? The National Institute on Aging describes symptoms of depression as follows:3
- Persistent, sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Continuous feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Irritability, restlessness, or having trouble sitting still
- Loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Difficulty sleeping, oversleeping, or waking up very early
- Eating more or less than usual with unplanned weight gain or loss
- Thoughts of death or suicide
From the Pros: If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or SAD but are unable to tell the difference, check out our guide for navigating depression in seniors.
Don't be afraid to reach out to friends, family, or health professionals if you think you have depression or need additional help. If you have Medicare, coverage plans for depression and other related mental health are also available.
With the holiday season finally over, the heavy feeling of the winter months can affect many older folks throughout the United States. Whether it's due to the cold weather or lack of sunlight, seasonal depression is something to be taken seriously. If you or a loved one is experiencing the effects of the winter blues, be sure to take advantage of these tips to boost your spirit and conquer the winter like a champion.