8 Ways to Get Through the Upcoming Winter Months

Fend off seasonal depression by making a plan now.

woman having coffee in a blanket
A woman drinks coffee, wrapped in a blanket.

Johner Images / Getty Image

As the long, dark days of late autumn and winter approach, my mind automatically turns to coping strategies. Even though I've spent much of my life living near the 45th parallel (halfway to the North Pole!) in Ontario, Canada, I still feel sad when I see the sunny summer evenings slipping away, with six months of sunless mornings and evenings ahead. I have to be proactive to keep blue feelings from creeping in and remind myself that there are benefits to these quiet cold-weather months.

Last week I saw someone post a question on Facebook about how to cope with seasonal depression throughout an upcoming winter in Norway – and more specifically, how to "keep the summer vibe lasting through the darkness of winter." The question is more relevant than ever these days, after people have spent months in lockdown and socially-distant arrangements and are tired of feeling alone before they've even begun slogging through winter.

It got me thinking about what I do to push through the winter months. You need more than just a positive mindset; you need actual things to do.

1. Learn to Love the Cold Weather

This is crucial. As long as you keep telling yourself that you miss the glorious summer heat and dislike the cold, you're reinforcing your own misery. Reframe it by using different language. Figure out what you can do that's fun in the late fall and winter, and then embrace those activities. Maybe you should take up cross-country skiing or snowboarding or snowshoeing or hiking or mountain biking. 

If it's sunny, bundle up and sit outside on your deck or front yard in a chair. Read a book, drink your coffee, do the same kinds of things you'd do on a warm sunny day; it will still leave you feeling great.

2. Buy the Right Clothing

Feeling cold is always unpleasant. I encourage people to go out and buy good-quality insulated gear (coat, gloves, boots, hat, and possibly pants) that will make spending time outside more pleasant. It'll make you want to go outside – if for no other reason than you spent money on it and want to get some use out of it! If you have children, outfit them properly so you can go out as a family each day. And always dry your gear after wearing so it's ready to go for the next outing.

3. Stay Active

You have to find something to do that will get you off the couch and out of the house. Staying active will improve your physical health and mental resilience. Join a sports team that has regular practice or sign up for a gym that you attend with a friend who can hold you accountable. Try a walking or running app that encourages you to keep an exercise schedule. Look into hot yoga classes or dance groups or whatever your thing might be.

I view the winter months as my hard-training time at the gym because my schedule isn't being derailed by (delightful) afternoons at the beach and spontaneous get-togethers with friends, as it frequently is in the summer. As I see it, the summer is when I can reap the benefit of the hard work I put in during the winter.

4. Take Vitamin D

Check with your doctor first before taking a supplement, but many people feel that their mood and quality of life improves with a daily vitamin D supplement. In reference to skin cancer rates being twice as high in the northeastern U.S. as they are in the Southwest, an article in the medical journal Cancer stated, "Many lives could be extended through increased careful exposure to solar UV-B radiation and more safely, vitamin D3 supplementation, especially in non[-]summer months."

5. Surround Yourself with Plants

Having lush, green life around you during the winter months can be a real mood-booster. Make sure your plants are getting adequate light themselves (put them as close to a window as possible) and take care of them; the act of gardening itself is therapeutic. Here's a list of stalwart varieties that don't mind low light.

6. Create a Cozy Interior

Make the inside of your home welcoming so it's a place you want to snuggle up and hang out without feeling trapped. I'm a fan of warm reading lamps, easily accessible blankets, a soft couch, and fireplace. Add a few good books, a bowl of popcorn, and a movie, and you've pretty much described my perfect winter weekend. Buy bubble bath for your tub, add some soft pillows to your bed, and splurge on cozy slippers. String up twinkly lights around the inside of your window frames. Here are some tips on "How to Have a Hygge Winter."

7. Reach Out to Friends

A sense of community makes everything easier to handle. Although it's more challenging during COVID times, establish a friend bubble that you can see regularly and safely, and come up with a list of winter activities that you can do together – perhaps hiking every weekend, having backyard campfires, playing board games, or cooking together.

8. Find the Awe

As part of his personal winter survival program in the northern Canadian city of Winnipeg, writer David Cain says he plans to take a lot of walks. These expose him to nature, which in turn fills him with the emotion of awe. Cain writes, "It does make sense that feeling the vast scale and mystery of nature’s processes might make the human brain less consumed by worries about housing markets and doctor’s appointments."

As neurology and psychiatry professor Virginia Sturm recently told Treehugger about a study she led, awe is "a positive emotion that we experience in response to perceptual vastness – when we encounter something we cannot immediately understand." It has been linked to reduced self-preoccupation, improved connection with others, and greater pro-social behavior.

Try to find some awe in each day of this long, dark winter, or at the very least, identify aspects of these upcoming under-appreciated seasons that are unique and worthy of admiration.

You can do this!