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Cold weather woes: Winter blues range from lethargy to seasonal affected disorder, but there are way to combat them

Illustration by Cathryn Cunningham/Journal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The excitement of the holidays has long since departed but the cold, sometimes bitter, weather of the season remains.

While many revel in the colder months, others find themselves struggling mentally and emotionally during this time of year.

The winter blues usually start in fall and remains through the winter months. The winter blues are pretty common and describe feeling lethargic, sad or down overall when the weather turns cold and the days grow shorter.

A smaller population will experience these blues in a more extreme way, which is known as seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depression. The winter months can bring on feelings of sadness, hopelessness and stress and affect sleep patterns, appetite, and energy levels.

The impact is even more severe for those who live in areas with very little sunshine. Although New Mexico doesn’t have this problem, its citizens are not immune to the winter blues or more serious seasonal depression.

Clinical psychologist Thomas McCaffrey said while there are several steps people can take to improve their mood during the winter months, getting sunlight is the most critical.

“One of the things you can do is get outside,” he said. “Even if it’s not a bright, sunny day. It’s like taking an antidepressant in a way.”

There are artificial ways to get sunlight but he said nothing beats the actual sun, which can be an instant mood lifter. He said people should be mindful about making going outdoors part of their daily winter routine.

“You may have to go out of your way to do it,” he said. “But take advantage of mother nature, which is a natural healing agent.”

Laura Lundy is a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of New Mexico Hospital and the public education chair for the New Mexico Psychological Association. Lundy recommends daily sunlight as well but said getting outside has another benefit. She said physical activity can be a mood lifter.

“It’s also important to maintain a good sleep schedule,” she said. “It’s easy to want to hibernate. Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time even on weekends.”

She said the National Sleep Foundation ( offers healthy sleeping tips for getting a good night’s rest. She added that people should not be afraid to seek professional help if any of the above mentioned tips are not working.

Here’s a list of the tips offered by Lundy, McCaffrey, and NHS, which is the national health information service for Scotland, a country that is no stranger to gloomy days.

• Get plenty of sunlight. Vitamin D provided by the sun interacts with the body’s natural chemistry to provide an energy boost.

• Plan for the cold. Buy proper winter gear and equipment so going outdoors is still possible.

• Maintain a social life.

• Exercise.

• Make your environment brighter. Invest in a light box, open blinds and curtains, trim back tree branches, sit next to the window.

• Having something to look forward to every day or week.

• Start a project. Completing projects, such as painting the house, reorganizing cabinets or decluttering closets, can leave you with a sense of accomplishment and offers a distraction.

• Listen to upbeat and cheery music.

• Sit by a fireplace.

• Seek help from a professional.

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