Important Steps to Overcoming the Winter Blues Without Relapsing

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The fall can be a wonderful time of year, but it brings with it the looming specter of winter with its shorter days and colder weather. It can be a difficult time of year for people with seasonal affective disorder, and people with depression often struggle during the winter months as well. If you have problems with addiction, these seasonal blues can be especially difficult.

If you have a history of addiction, the winter blues could potentially lead to relapse. A relapse prevention plan is an important part of recovery, and it’s important to be more diligent when the risks are higher. Fortunately, there are a variety of measures you can take to help offset the effect of the change in seasons and help prevent depression from worsening or a seasonal depression from taking hold.

if you have a history of addiction, the winter blues could potentially lead to relapse

Taking Care of Yourself

It seems pretty simple, but self-care goes beyond the basics when you’re coping with addiction. Taking care of yourself is a way to cope with the urges that may lead to relapse, and good self-care can help elevate your mood when you’re dealing with depression.

The steps to maintain your basic health are more important when you’re dealing with mood disorders, whether it’s seasonal or not. They can make the difference between a significant, sustained mood change leading to a relapse and a sustained healthy approach to your life.

Maintaining these basics is vital:

Get enough sleep

It’s easy to take sleep for granted, but how rested you feel can have a significant impact on your mood. Periods of sleep deprivation can increase your symptoms of depression and aggravate a depressive episode you may be experiencing. If you’re prone to seasonal depression, a lack of sleep can make it worse.

As your depression worsens, your chances of relapse increase, so it’s always a good idea to get the proper amount of rest. This can be difficult, but if you develop good sleep practices, your sleep routine can help elevate your moods and keep you healthy.

A routine is very important, too. If you make it a habit to go to sleep around the same time each night, you have a better chance of sleeping well. It’s also crucial to limit what you do in bed to prevent you from associating the bed with being awake. For instance, watching television or using electronic devices can make it harder to sleep. The light from these devices can stimulate your brain, keeping you awake. These activities can also serve to subconsciously make you associate your bed with being awake.

On weekends, it may be tempting to stay up later. While this is ok once in a while — such as when you go out to a movie or to spend time with friends — it’s still a good idea to try to maintain the same sleep patterns as much as possible. This way, you can ensure enough sleep to rejuvenate each night and help maintain a better mood each day.

maintain the same sleep patterns as much as possible

Eat right

A balanced diet is one of the cornerstones of good health, and it can have an impact on your mental health as well. Various nutrient deficiencies — vitamin D, for example — are associated with depression. When you maintain balance in your diet, you prevent these deficiencies from sneaking up on you and affecting your mood.

You also have to be wary of guilt when it comes to your diet. For instance, it’s ok to splurge once in a while and have an extra piece of cheesecake. Guilt over those small things can grow when we beat ourselves up over it. If you have serious problems around eating, it may be helpful to consult your physician. An eating disorder can have a serious impact on your emotional health and sobriety. It’s vital to deal with them in a healthy way.

Get exercise

There have been a number of studies that show how regular exercise can have similar results to antidepressant medication. This doesn’t mean you should stop taking your medication — which you should never do without your doctor’s input anyway. However, exercise is yet another way you can boost your mood.

It’s important to keep up an exercise regime even as it gets colder — even though you may be less motivated to do it. Remember, exercise can be extremely beneficial to your emotional health. The release of endorphins from a cardiovascular workout on a regular basis can go a long way to staving off a depressive episode and a potential relapse that depression can trigger. It’s a good idea to exercise for at least three 20-minute sessions each week, whether you have depression or not.

Join a gym, and then ensure you work going there into your daily or weekly routine. If you’d rather be outside, take up cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. There are even many exercises you can accomplish in the comfort of your own home — do simple calisthenics or use a workout video. The physical effects of exercise are great, but the side-effect of elevating your mood is more than worth it.

Indeed, your overall physical health is tied closely to your emotional and mental health. It’s worth these simple steps of taking care of yourself physically to help you take care of yourself emotionally and prevent a relapse.

regular exercise can have similar results to antidepressant medication

Accepting Yourself

Naturally, this isn’t just something you should do in the fall and winter months when the days grow short. Self-acceptance is a key to recovery and to maintaining a healthy mood. Depression can quickly lead to a downward spiral that makes you feel out of our control, and it’s these times where it can be easy to relapse.

If you are prone to seasonal depression, it’s important to be even more diligent. That way, you can overcome those winter blues without relapsing. Being proactive about self-acceptance is vital.

being proactive about self-acceptance is vital

Here are some ways to accomplish self-acceptance:

Be positive about yourself

It can be incredibly easy to be negative about yourself, especially if it’s something you have gotten into the habit of doing over the years as you’ve struggled with your mental and behavioral issues. As you descend into the winter blues, you may lose your energy and motivation to curb that negativity before it gets out of control — and that can lead to relapsing.

That’s why it’s important to maintain positive self-talk as the days grow colder and shorter. It’s possible to be your own worst enemy, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Stand in front of the mirror and practice positive self-affirmations if you need to, but at least intercept those negative thoughts before they get out of hand. Those negative thoughts bring you down, and they can lead to the unmistakable spiral that leads to relapse.

When that spiral is compounded by seasonal depression, it can be overwhelming. Regular positive self-talk can help you avoid a depression relapse.

You’re important, and you deserve to have a healthy life. Affirming yourself by repeating positive mantras may seem foolish at times, but it’s worth it. You aren’t just saying those things to go through the motions. You say those things because they’re true.

Accept your mistakes

Mistakes are only mistakes if you don’t learn from them, but it can still be hard not to dwell on them. However, continuing to think about them can significantly affect your mood — especially if you are dealing with seasonal depression.

You can’t change the past. You can only move forward. If you hang onto guilt over the things that have already happened, you put your emotional well-being and your sobriety at risk. We should do our best to accept the things we cannot change. Hopefully, in our recovery we’ve been able to address these things. But these things that hold us back — and bring us down — may be more complicated to deal with than how we’ve addressed them in our recovery.

you can't change the past, you can only move forward

There may be things that we’ve done that we can’t make amends for. If you have trouble processing these things on your own, it might be a good idea to get some help from someone. If talking to a sponsor or a close friend doesn’t help, it’s a good idea to talk to a professional therapist. If you can’t move forward from these things, they can do more than just worsen our depression. They can undermine your very sobriety.

If you can, consider the lesson learned in those mistakes. By reframing these past mistakes, accepting them, and learning from them, you can prevent them from bringing you down and feeding into your seasonal depression.

Our thought life is an important part of who we are. How we think about ourselves can have an enormous impact on our lives. If we can put a stop to those negative thoughts about ourselves and reframe those mistakes we’ve made, we can prevent them from worsening or intensifying our depression — seasonal or otherwise. And when we do that, we can more easily overcome winter blues without relapsing.

Taking Care of Our Spirit

This doesn’t have to be religious. An important part of the 12 Step process deals with letting a power greater than ourselves work in us to help us stay sober. Whether you follow any religion or not, staying connected spiritually can help prevent a seasonal depression from setting in or your clinical depression from worsening.

The shorter and colder days in winter sometimes make it difficult to maintain your connection. It’s still important to connect with others who share your spiritual beliefs or to do whatever you need to do to connect with your spirit life.

If you’re a church-goer, go to services. Feel the comfort as the assembly prays. There may even be people there who understands both depression and recovery from addiction. Connect with them.

If the collective influence of 12-step meetings is your higher power, go to meetings. If you need to go to one every day, do that. Attending meetings is a key to much of your ongoing recovery.

attending meetings is a key to much of your ongoing recovery

If nature, itself, is your higher power, find a way to get out into it despite the cold. Take a walk. Wonder at the beauty of fallen snow. Park your car near the ocean and watch the waves unceasingly lap at the beach.

No matter what you consider your higher power, you need to stay connected to it.

Feed your spirit, for when your spirit goes hungry, your mood can suffer. The very serenity asked for in the 12 Steps prayer is often the very thing that keeps us sober. When we feed our spirit, our mood benefits, and we can avoid a depression relapse.


Taking care of your body, mind and spirit are an excellent foundation to recovery and relapse prevention. Sometimes we need more. Sometimes, we need to connect with people and socialize. It can be easy to let ourselves fall away from social activities in the winter.

It’s okay to be alone, and it’s okay to be home and take care of your family. We all have basic responsibilities.

But sometimes, we need to socialize. When we’re alone, our minds can wander to dark places, and our moods may suffer. We need more than just talking around the watercooler at work or small talk with an acquaintance we run into at the grocery store. Actively socializing has a variety of benefits.

actively socializing has a variety of benefits

  • Setting our problems aside. When we socialize, we can temporarily set our problems aside and just be friends with someone. We can share an activity with someone, like bowling or going to a movie. We can get caught up in watching a sporting event with friends. Indeed, even complaining about your favorite team can help you connect with fellow fans.
  • Sharing the load. If you have a friend who understands the struggle of addiction or depression, it may help you to lean on them just to get things off your chest. You can also listen to your friend’s struggles. Just be careful. We aren’t our friends’ therapists (and they aren’t ours). We can’t solve each other’s problems, but we can listen.
  • Changing your routine. Routines are good for us, but when they become monotonous, it’s good to mix things up, and do something new with a friend.

It’s important to remember that we can’t just sit and expect someone to call us. We have to take responsibility for our friendships and our social lives, especially if we’re in early recovery. It’s important to socialize with people who will support that recovery, but we have to acknowledge that it can be intimidating for people — even supportive people — to reach out to us.

Addiction and depression are complicated, and they can complicate our relationships with friends and family. If you have healthy friendships, reach out to those people. If you don’t have them, it’s time to nurture some. An active, healthy social life can help lift our spirits and our moods, not matter what time of year it is. Good friendships can be a key to overcoming winter blues without relapsing.

good friendships can be a key to overcoming winter blues

Keep Following Your Treatment Plan

If you have clinical depression, or if you have seasonal depression, it’s important to follow through with your treatment. That’s a sound plan for anyone, but if you have a history of addiction, it’s especially important for you to continue your treatment.

With many mental and behavioral health issues, it is important to continue with some form of treatment long-term. Some things are more difficult to overcome than others. If you have clinical depression along with addiction issues — and they’re aggravated by seasonal depression — it’s vital that you follow through with your treatment in order to overcome those winter blues without relapsing.

it's important to continue with some form of treatment long-term

The treatment that’s been working for you is unique to you, but whatever your plan calls for, you need to keep it up.

  • Medication. It’s never a good idea to go off antidepressant medication without input from your doctor. Some medications require a gradual withdrawal to prevent serious medical problems — not to mention the possible psychological consequences. If you experience seasonal depression, it’s especially important to keep taking your medication at the prescribed dose. Your mood, along with your sobriety could depend on it.
  • Individual therapy. There are some issues that you need to process with a professional. Even if you’ve progressed to a place where you just periodically “check in” with your therapist, you need to keep doing that, especially when you’re prone to the winter blues. A therapist will probably be able to see changes in you that you may not have noticed.
  • Group work. Even if your treatment plan is limited to going to meetings on a regular basis, it’s important to continue to do that. People you know in the program may be able to see changes in your affect that seasonal depression has brought on. If nothing else, being active in the program is vital to ongoing sobriety, no matter what season it is.
  • Light therapy. A full spectrum light can make a drastic difference in dealing with seasonal depression. You can buy a full spectrum lamp for under $100, and light boxes may cost $200 or more. Your insurance may cover part or all of the cost. Use it in the morning daily, during the fall and winter, and you may quickly see an increase in your energy and an elevation in your mood.

A treatment plan is like a contract we make with ourselves and our healthcare and mental health providers. We have to do our part for the plan to work. When the seasons change, and the days grow short, our moods may swing low. But it’s vital to our sobriety that we keep upholding our end of the bargain when it comes to our treatment plan.

We need to keep going to our therapy appointments and taking our prescribed medications. We need to keep going to meetings. Doing these things can be especially difficult when the weight of the winter blues is pulling us down and when we feel like we can’t deal with anything else. Our treatment for depression and substance abuse is one of the most important things we will do in our lives.

If we’re doing what we need to do to take care of ourselves, we will be able to overcome the winter blues without relapsing.

Sometimes, It’s Too Much

Sometimes, it is. Sometimes, the weight of seasonal depression pulls us down with a greater strength than we can muster to keep ourselves out of it. This happens. It happens to many of us.

Sometimes, we need more help than is readily available. All of our self-care and treatment and connecting with our spirit isn’t enough. This happens. It happens to many of us.

When we need more help, it’s okay to reach out. A relapse doesn’t mean we failed. It means we need more help.

a relapse doesn't mean you failed

Help is available, and you deserve it. 12 Keys rehab can help you through this.

If the weight of the winter blues is more than you and your sobriety can bear, let us know. Contact us for information or help when you’re having trouble avoiding a depression-related relapse.

You’re worth the time and effort, and so is your sobriety.

call today learn more view our programs

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