Beating the Winter Blues: Tips for Teens
“There is no bad weather, only wrong clothes.”
— German expression
Shorter days and colder weather often contribute to mental health slumps in the winter. For teens, these challenges are compounded by sleep deficits and the recent covid spike. Learning how to self-soothe and manage through difficult emotional patches is an important life skill. Here are some strategies to improve well-being during the cold weeks ahead.
1) Turn your inner critic into an inner coach
While we all have an inner critic – the voice that’s extra harsh when we make a mistake or fills us with self-doubt when we try something new – we don’t have to let our critic rule the day.
Teens can learn to “catch” their own self-critical thoughts and practice replacing them with more encouraging thoughts. “You’ll never figure this out” becomes “This is hard, but if I practice or ask for help, I can learn how to do it.” “You messed that up so badly” becomes “I made a mistake but I can do better next time.”
Developing a positive inner coach can be especially helpful during the winter where a natural sense of malaise can set in. “Ugh. You’re so lazy, you don’t feel like doing anything” is a self-talk recipe for sadness. But, “It’s cold and rainy, and I really feel the need for some down time. What can I do to recharge and give myself the energy I need to study?” is a way to promote self-awareness and self care.
Better self-talk can make a huge difference, but it probably won’t feel or sound natural at first. The critic will want to fight for its position! It will take a lot of practice to let the new voice – the inner coach – start to take hold. But, once it does, it will be well worth the effort.
2) Disconnect (from screens)
Teens hear it all day long: reduce your “screen time.” But most schoolwork is online and so much teen social life takes place there, too. Cutting back the amount of time spent online isn’t easy, especially during a pandemic. Instead of focusing entirely on quantity of time spent online (which is important), start by focusing on quality of time.
It’s no secret that spending time on social media, in particular, can negatively impact a teen’s mental state. Start small by cutting back the time on the online things that deplete the most and refill that time with something more restful, like light reading or listening to music.
Technology can also be used to your advantage by looking using a screen time app to self-monitor or by setting Do Not Disturb hours on your phone overnight.
3) Reconnect (with good people)
Teens (like adults) don’t always get to choose who they see throughout the day. If your first-period algebra teacher is always grouchy, that’s how you start the day, whether you like it or not. If you love basketball, but the other kids on the team this year aren’t your cup of tea, it’s going to be a long season. We may not always realize it but the vibes from those around us can affect how we feel.
Thankfully, there are times when you get to choose your company. This is where it helps to get really intentional. Maybe it’s time to break the after school routine of hanging out with a group that’s currently in a toxic dynamic. Skipping that invitation leaves more time for an easy-going or funny friend, or a friend who just makes conversation easy. It doesn’t always have to be a peer, either. Grandparents, favorite aunts, or other family members can be a really healthy outlet.
There are lots of ways to surround yourself with good company. The key is to choose wisely when the opportunity arises.
4) Treat yourself
Imagine the inner coach asking, “What do I need to recharge right now?” How would you answer? In winter, we all crave certain comforts, things like cozy pajamas, hot cocoa, and quiet time indoors. Choose a healthy bit of comfort you can give yourself on the regular.
While it’s best to save Netflix and Tik Tok scrolling for another time, there are a variety of activities that might fit the bill – check out a new documentary, spend time with friends, try to learn a new skill or find a new hobby, or curl up with a baked good and a graphic novel. There are lots of ways to rest and recharge. It’s all about finding what works for you.
5) Put things in motion
One of the challenges during the winter months is to keep moving, even when it’s cold outside. Physical activity is one of the most protective factors for mental health. Students who normally rely on outdoor sports, may have to be extra intentional about finding ways to move, stretch and get their heart rate up.
Whether you have access to a gym or workout facility or piece of stationary exercise equipment, getting your body moving can keep your energy and mood healthy.
6) Get help when you need it
Part of taking good care of ourselves is asking for help when we need it. When it comes to mental health, it’s important for teens to have supportive adults, parents, a teacher, coach, or mentor – or a mental health professional if it’s more than a short-lived case of winter blues.
It’s important for teens and their families to be aware of the resources in their school and community because we all need extra help sometimes and getting the help we need is a sign of strength.