Dealing With Seasonal Slumps

By The Fix staff 10/24/17

When you’re balancing recovery and a mental illness the change of seasons can be daunting.

A man with umbrella walking down a road under cloudy and rainy sky
Here are some helpful tips to maintain a stable mood as the days get shorter. Photo by Nick Scheerbart on Unsplash

It’s the time of year when the days get shorter, the temperatures get colder and many people start feeling down in the dumps. If you’re dreading the long winter ahead, you’re not alone. Research shows that about 5 percent of Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that most commonly sets in during the fall and winter months. Many more people tend to feel down or isolate themselves during those months even if they haven’t officially been diagnosed with SAD.

“This time of year, when it’s getting darker quicker, the weather turning and there’s not as many blue skies, there’s a little less reason to hope, and that can become a lot bigger,” Josh Staub, the aftercare director at Maple Mountain, a recovery center in Mapleton, Utah that provides trauma-informed care and treats people with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse diagnoses.

Feeling down after saying goodbye to summer is normal, but it’s easy for those feeling to spiral, Staub says. To prevent that from happening, here are steps you can take to stay ahead of seasonal depression and stave off the winter blues:

Reach out for help.

Whether you’re talking to a trusted friend or a therapist, speaking with someone who knows you well will give you a bit of relief and also help you recognize how big of an issue you’re facing.

“The biggest thing that I found to be beneficial is the ability to reach out, to be open and honest with anyone that you trust,” Staub says. “More often than not you’ll find you’re not the only one who suffers with these kinds of ideas or issues.”

Knowing that other people are feeling the same can help cut through the isolation that can make seasonal slumps feel even worse.

Keep connections going strong.

It’s natural to want to stay indoors during the winter. However, if you find yourself joking about hibernation a little too often, it’s probably a sign that you need more social outlets. Don’t let the short days and cold weather deter you. Connect with other people with similar interests, and keep each other motivated to get together during the fall and winter months.

“This is a good time to try new things and come out of your shell a little bit,” Staub says. Sure, you might have to convince yourself to go out at first, but Staub says that there’s a lot to be gained from socializing.

If you go to meetings make an effort to participate more and socialize with people after. Seek out concerts, art shows and other events in your area, or sign up for a local race.

“Involve yourself,” Staub says. “Thats the most difficult part, but the most important.”

Recognize your patterns.

If you’re adept at living with a substance abuse or mental health issue, you’re probably already good at identifying patterns that can trigger negative behaviors. Use that to your advantage. If you know that you’re likely to feel down during the fall, plan ahead to try to mitigate your symptoms. If you recognize that you are sleeping more, skipping the gym or binge-watching TV, check in with yourself before the behavior becomes worse.

“There is always a point when you can take a deep breath, take a step and do something different,” Staub says.

Get allies on your side.

Of course, keeping yourself accountable is hard work, so ask the people around you for a bit of extra support. They can help you recognize when your behaviors start to spiral and help to intervene before they become too damaging.

Staub says he has people at work and at home that he can talk to when the need arises.

“That can be embarrassing, but I’d rather be embarrassed than be miserable,” he says.

This doesn’t mean you have to share your story or current situation with everyone, but have allies placed in the different areas of your life where you may need them.

“I’m not suggesting telling everyone you come into contact with, but I do have multiple people in in every different area of my life that are aware of my struggles,” he said.

Know that you’ve overcome this before.

When it feels impossible to keep going on, remind yourself that you’ve been in similarly hard situations and have always found a way through. Rather than trying to escape your feelings Staub suggests acknowledging them. Being able to do that made a big difference in his life.

“I started to recognize that it does pass, there’s always another side,” he says. “Then I stack up a little evidence to support that. Anyone who has really struggled has felt that way multiple times. Knowing and recognizing the reality that it’s always passed before is powerful.”

Remember that that fact is mirrored in nature as well.

“Even the season change. Everything passes in time,” Staub says. “That would be the main thing: knowing that no matter how you’re feeling, you’re not going to feel that way forever.”

Maple Mountain Recovery is a trauma-informed addiction treatment center in Mapleton, Utah. Learn more about their program at and follow them on Facebook.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

The Fix staff consists of the editor-in-chief and publisher, a senior editor, an associate editor, an editorial coordinator, and several contributing editors and writers. Articles in Professional Voices, Ask an Expert, and similar sections are written by doctors, psychologists, clinicians, professors and other experts from universities, hospitals, government agencies and elsewhere. For contact and other info, please visit our About Us page.