1. Lack of SunlightA lack of sunlight, or the length of the night in some cases, can cause an increase in melatonin and a drop in the neurotransmitter serotonin and Vitamin D. All of this can throw your mind and body out of whack and leave you feeling tired, irritable and blue.
Tip: Do what you can to get outside, open the blinds, and hold on until daylight savings time.
2. Cabin FeverCabin fever is not a technical diagnosis but it is a well-documented phenomenon (think early US settlers who spent long winters alone in their cabins). Cabin fever describes a state of restlessness, depression, and irritability brought on by spending time in a confined space or remote area.
Where grief is concerned, being stuck inside provides you with ample time to spend ruminating, thinking of your loved one, focused on difficult emotions, and replaying unpleasant memories with little distraction.
Tip: It’s okay to spend time focused on your grief, but also find constructive ways to occupy your mind like puzzles, movies, games, organizing, home repairs, calling a friend, creating art, or writing in your journal.
3. Social IsolationThe predisposition for grievers to withdraw combined with cancelations, problems with transportation, and a desire to avoid the cold and snow can amplify your risk of falling into a cycle of emotional and social isolation. Isolation and loneliness can have a negative impact on your physical and emotional health, which we discussed in detail in this post.
Tip: Get out and go to a mall, store, support group, or place of worship. When possible, push yourself to keep plans even if it means braving the cold.
4. Not moving enoughYou already know that even a small amount of exercise can have a marked impact on your physical and emotional health. Obviously, in winter your options for getting out and moving around are limited. Snowy roads, icy sidewalks, and the cold make it virtually impossible to find many opportunities for exercise.
Tip: Even though taking an hour long walk outside might not be possible, look for alternative opportunities to get at least 20 minutes of exercise a day. Try walking outside for shorter intervals, get an exercise DVD, plan an indoor workout routine, or join a gym.
5. Poor eating and weight gainThank goodness for bulky sweaters, am I right? Studies show that caloric intake tends to increase about 200 calories a day beginning in the fall. The rationale behind this increase is debatable as some researchers believe primitive impulses drive humans to stockpile calories in anticipation of short days and cold weather, while others think there’s just more opportunity to indulge in the winter (holidays, time spent inside, and the nostalgic connections associated with food). Regardless of why you eat, bad food can leave you feeling gross on many levels.
Tip: Are you giving yourself permission to eat badly because you’re sad? Are you eating out of boredom? Are you eating certain foods because you associate them with the cold weather or holidays? Be careful and be mindful of what you’re eating and why.
6. It’s coldThat’s all. Being cold is torture.
7. You’re sadFor some, the holidays present a storm of grief triggers followed by months of feeling blah (see all of the above). It’s possible that the events of November and December have set you adrift on a long grief wave that won’t recede until the spring thaw.
Tip: Believe that things will get better and check out our section on coping with grief.
8. You’re SADWinter-onset seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a subtype of major depression that is characterized by symptoms that emerge in fall or early winter and recede during the spring. These symptoms may start out mild and become more severe and include things like irritability, tiredness or low energy, problems getting along with others, hypersensitivity to rejection, heavy feeling in the arms or legs, oversleeping, appetite changes (craving carbs), and weight gain. It goes without saying that SAD can complicate one’s ability to cope with grief and other hardship.
Tip: If you think you might suffer from SAD read more about it here and talk to your doctor about your concerns.