8 ways to lift the pandemic winter blues

Excerpt: As the days grow shorter and people spend more time indoors amid the pandemic, depression among older adults could become more widespread this winter. You can take steps to prevent or ease winter blues by boosting your sunlight exposure, engaging in stimulating activities, and exercising indoors regularly. Eating more healthy and less processed foods, practicing mindfulness, and connecting with others by sharing memories can also help brighten your mood.


As the days grow shorter and people spend more time indoors, depression among older Canadians could become more widespread this winter with the added burden of the pandemic,* according to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Taking preventive steps before winter sets in can help to brighten your mood and reduce the risk of depression, and ease symptoms of depression. Here are some tips to help you beat the winter blues:

  1. Boost sun or light exposure. Get more natural light in winter by going outdoors when the sun is at its peak,* advises the Canadian Mental Health Association. Maximize sunlight exposure indoors by keeping curtains open during the day and sitting near windows. If you’re experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD), consider asking your doctor about a light therapy box,* which can help relieve symptoms.

  2. Engage in stimulating activities. Behavioural activation is a proven technique for treating depression by increasing a person’s involvement with positive, pleasurable activities.* Although you might not feel like doing the activity because you’re down, getting your mind and body into active state in the morning can lift your spirits* and build positive momentum through the day, suggests Psychology Today.

  3. Get moving indoors. Physical exercise helps to reduce depression in older adults,* reported a Gero Psych study. Doing low-impact activities indoors such as yoga, tai chi, brisk walking, and resistance exercises can help improve your mood and fitness. Low-intensity activity sustained over time releases chemicals that trigger growth of new nerve cell connections in the brain’s mood regions,* according to Harvard Medical School.

  4. Eat well and limit processed foods. Studies show people who eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and fish have lower rates of depression than those who follow a diet high in processed meat, sweet desserts, fried food, refined cereals and high-fat dairy products,* says Mayo Clinic.

  5. Practice mindfulness. Studies show mindfulness exercises such as focusing on your breathing, body scan meditation and guided visualization can be effective in lightening mood and easing depression.*

  6. Share warm memories. Connecting with others by sharing personal stories, happy memories and proud accomplishments in physically distanced groups, or through video calls, can reduce feelings of depression,* reports McMaster University.

  7. Promote better sleep. Poor sleep can increase the risk of depression or worsen symptoms by disrupting stress hormone levels and causing negative thinking.* Improve your sleep by sleeping in a cool, dark bedroom, taking a bath or doing relaxation exercises before bed, and avoiding stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, and light-emitting screens before bedtime.*

  8. Reach out for help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by low mood or depression, consider seeking help through the expanded mental health support services available online during the pandemic, or an in-person visit with your doctor.

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

1. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. “COVID-19: Mental health and the elderly.” (2020), online: https://health.sunnybrook.ca/mental-health/covid-19-mental-health-and-the-elderly/

2. CTV News. “How to tackle seasonal depression with the added burden of pandemic stress.” (2020), online: https://www.theloop.ca/ctvnews/how-to-tackle-seasonal-depression-with-the-added-burden-of-pandemic-stress/

3. Canadian Mental Health Association. “Coping with the winter blues.” (2017), online: https://ontario.cmha.ca/news/coping-winter-blues/

4. Canadian Mental Health Association. “Seasonal affective disorder.” (2013), online: https://cmha.bc.ca/documents/seasonal-affective-disorder-2/

5. Psychology Today. “Behavioral activation to prevent depression during COVID19.” (2020), online: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/joyful-parenting/202003/behavioral-activation-prevent-depression-during-covid-19

6. Gero Psych. “Using exercise to fight depression in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” (2015), online: https://econtent.hogrefe.com/doi/abs/10.1024/1662-9647/a000133?journalCode=gro

7. Harvard Medical School. “Exercise is an all-natural treatment to fight depression.” (2019), online: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-is-an-all-natural-treatment-to-fight-depression

8. Mayo Clinic. “Junk food blues: Are depression and diet related?” (2018), online: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/depression-and-diet/faq-20058241

9. Mayo Clinic. “Mayo Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness exercises.” (2018), online: https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-mindfulness-practicing-mindfulness-exercises/#:~:text=You%20can%20also%20try%20more%20structured%20mindfulness%20exercises%2C,floor%20and%20hands%20in%20your%20lap.%20Walking%20meditation.

10. McMaster University. “Combat loneliness and depression by sharing memories: Relive those glory days!” (2019), online: https://www.mcmasteroptimalaging.org/blog/detail/blog/2016/10/04/relive-those-glory-days-sharing-memories-helps-combat-loneliness-and-depression

11. Canadian Mental Health Association. “Sleep and your mental health.” (2019), online: https://halton.cmha.ca/5406-2/

12. Mayo Clinic. “Six tips to better sleep.” (2020), online: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/sleep/art-20048379