How to Beat the ‘Winter Blues’ in Recovery

By The Valor Team
Friday, December 6, 2019 at 8:56 am in
mom with children looking out window on snowy day

For many of us, the winter months are the toughest. But for those in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, the winter months can be especially difficult.  The ‘winter blues’ is often used to describe a seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that occurs during the winter months.

Some of the symptoms of the winter blues can include:

  • General downturn in mood
  • Hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Persistent feelings of fatigue
  • Drowsiness
  • Sluggishness
  • Iritability

You may experience the winter blues when winter weather makes you feel trapped inside, or the lack of sunlight and stress of the holiday season get to you. In most circumstances the winter blues aren’t cause for major concern. However, individuals in recovery should take special care. Feelings of sadness, stress and anger are known substance abuse triggers, so the winter blues could potentially lead to relapse. 

If you are in recovery and working hard to stay sober, here are several ways to combat the winter blues and safeguard your sobriety.

Get Some Sun

One of the biggest triggers of the winter blues is the limited amount of sunlight available during the day. In winter the days are significantly shorter, and many of us go to work in the dark and return home in the dark, limiting our exposure to sunlight. 

Being in the sunlight is known to have a number of health benefits, particularly when it comes to mood and mental health. Sunlight is known to trigger the release of serotonin and a number of hormones in the brain that elevate a person’s mood.

Darkness, on the other hand, causes the brain to produce melatonin, which contributes to increased drowsiness. 

Taking in some sunlight at least a few times each week can help improve your mood. If you’re inside at work during daylight hours, or it’s too cold to spend extended periods outdoors, or there just aren't many sunny days in Youngstown in the winter, an alternative may be using a “light box”. During light therapy, you sit or work near a device called a light therapy box, which gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light. Light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, and is also known as bright light therapy or phototherapy. 

Choose Foods That Can Elevate Your Mood

You know that what you eat has a profound affect on your physical health, but did you know that the things you eat can also have a significant effect on your mental health? 

Foods that are high in carbohydrates are beneficial to one’s mood, causing an increase in serotonin levels. Eating fatty fish like salmon, tuna and trout is another great way to fight off the winter blues since the omega-3s in fish are known to be beneficial to mood. There are many other foods that can improve a person’s mood, making eating strategically one of the easiest ways to stave off seasonal depression.

Get Regular Exercise 

When you're dealing with a case of the winter blues, exercise may be the last thing you want to do. Due to the increase in melatonin levels, you may have trouble finding the motivation to exercise. While aerobic exercise would certainly yield the most benefit, any physical activity has major benefits.

Researchers at the Harvard Medical School determined that five brisk, fast-paced walks for 35 minutes each week, or three 60-minute walks per week, led to major improvements in symptoms of depression. Another study found that exercising in sunlight or under bright light was particularly effective in alleviating symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. 

The most difficult part of overcoming the winter blues may be finding the motivation to do any of these things. However, by getting more exposure to sunlight, eating foods that help elevate your mood, and upping your physical activity, you can improve your mood and beat the winter blues.


If you or your loved one struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, we are here for you. 
Call us at 330-330-8777 to speak with us about available treatment options.