8 Reasons why Winter is the Worst (for grievers)

What’s cold, icy, really uncomfortable, and sometimes makes you sad?

Gosh darn winter, that’s what.

You can spare me your affinity for skiing, freshly fallen snow and curling up by a warm fire because I will swiftly counter with wet socks, slush, and lack of sunlight.   Sure winter has its moments, but I find that its short days and bone-chilling temperatures are enough to push me over the edge.

This may be especially true for many of you who have to suffer the indignities of winter while also trying to cope with your grief. Grief is an emotional tundra as it is, then winter comes along and paints the landscape frigid and grey to match your mood. Winter can also exacerbate the problems grievers are vulnerable to, like isolation, depression and poor self-care.

Perhaps I’m negatively biased because I’ve lived through winter in cities like Syracuse, NY and Erie, PA.  However, I prefer to think this makes me an expert, which is why I’m going to take the next few minutes to espouse all the reasons why winter is the worst, especially for grievers.

1.  Lack of Sunlight

A 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 Fever

Cabin 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 ruminate on difficult thoughts and emotions, and to replay unpleasant memories with little distraction.

Tip:  It’s good 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 Isolation

The 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 enough

You 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, do exercise videos on YouTube, plan an indoor workout routine, or join a gym.

5.  Poor eating

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 cold

That’s all.  Being cold is torture.

7.  You’re sad

For 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 SAD

Winter-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, and appetite changes (craving carbs).  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.


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November 14, 2019

16 responses on "8 Reasons why Winter is the Worst (for grievers)"

  1. My brother died alone in his house and we discovered him on Christmas day 12/25/17 dead. I was the second person after my nephew in law broke into the house. It has been quite difficult the winter months because we use to talk everyday sometimes into the late night when issues of other things arose. I miss him terribly and when it becomes winter I just can’t help to think how he died on a snowy cold night in his bed where he forgot to turn the heat on. Covered with blankets cause he wanted to save money to pay for his wife’s nursing bills. He was only 68 and he had a wife same age with alzheimers in nsg home. It broke his bank, as well as it broke his heart. I still can seem him sitting here on holidays. I try to avoid things like pictures on holidays cause I miss him terribly. I have siblings that don’t even call me since they all live afar and didn’t develop a close relationship. None of my siblings are close, some say they miss him a little. That brings me to tears cause he was our oldest brother who put up with everyone. In winter months, they are the hardest, so with less people being so sensitive and the emotional brain isn’t there to connect to , I find faith and prayer works the best on mornings.

  2. My father died last year oct 2018 and this winter I feel the loneliest it’s like reality has set in, I live on my own and work on my own and comes to wkd and cabin fever sets in and I seek out company wherever I can and I’m struggling, no partner to share my life with and the loneliness is palpable I realised I do so much for people and rarely is it reciprocated and when it is I give back 10 fold as I’m that thankful someone cared enough. I dunno what to do to lift this blanket of grief and loneliness. Any advice would be great as the winter is here and I’m dreading it.

  3. I lost my husband of 43 years, together 46 years, 1 week before Christmas 2016. We were so close. Went through many tough times in our marriage, but not because of our marriage but because of our son with cancer, and survived a ADHD daughter. Raising our oldest grandson whom I adopted after the passing of my husband. ( My husband and I raised him since he was 1 year old.) So now I’m a mom again of a 11 year old, but he has been strong for me. He is just now starting to feel the grief. Mine has never stopped. I have never been on my own. Took a part time job with an old boss who tells me all the time that he knows it helps and it does. It keeps me busy, but when I walk out from work the tears just roll. I don’t think I’ll ever quit grieving. It feels just like the first day. I’m tired of being sad all the time. My older children think that I should be further along, but he was my life. Just needed to share. Winter and the holidays are the hardest, but I still do what I did when my husband was alive. I host Christmas and Thanksgiving. I try to keep some normalcy, but at the same time we took a vacation to Florida this year and will be going with my little ones’ 5th grade class to Washington DC. Trying new things, but the grief just stays.

  4. My husband died on January 31. The holidays were bad, but January is worse.

  5. Winter is one of the reasons I have never considered moving south or west in retirement. “To everything, there is a season. And a time for every purpose under heaven.” Nature knows, we need the time of ‘hibernation’.

  6. My son past away 7 months ago FOREVER 28. Saying that he loved winter and snow is an understatement…he lived for snowboarding. I currently have mixed feelings about winter and snow. I miss him deeply when I see the winter snow but on the other hand I know he is near me happy enjoying it!

  7. If there is ever any solace of grief (which there isn’t), winter is preferable). I lost my eldest and most beloved son on November 29th, 2016 at the age of 14. He was a beautiful child and I felt his whole life that it was a gift being his parent. Winter allows solitude and reasons to say no. Plus, my favorite times of the year such as Christmas and Winter Carnival now have the heaviest blankets of sadness.

  8. I like the social isolation. I like the dark. I like not having to go outside. When Spring comes, so comes the real agony. Cheerful families, singing birds, forced interactions with people thrilled the sun is shining. Nope, winter is my savior from grief.

    • I feel the same way Elka. The quiet helps calm me and the solitude gives me the time I need to process what has happened. I sort of feel at one with the universe in the winter. I always have, and to my surprise it has helped me with my grief. Plus I know it won’t last so i’m enjoying it while it’s here.

  9. I lost my son October 19, 2016….cancer took him in seven months…then I was faced with holidays and winter…I pray, I cry and I pray…

  10. I actually feel the reverse – it’s summer that brings out all these habits (granted, this also comes from actually having to walk everywhere). Everything is supposed to be “new” and “cheery” again. Well, I’m still numb from losing my mom. I need winter. I need the cold to feel better.

  11. Sandra…I guess we are both looking for help! I replied to one of your posts on FB!
    Nothing seems to help with the loneliness & feeling lost!

  12. Yup. It’s beautiful out there but so depressing. Even March is gray and cold in Upstate New York. So it’s not over yet. Good time to get involved in a really engaging project. Thanks for this post with all the great information.

  13. dont like winter, never did, i dont do outdoor sports in winter, i hibernate like a bear lol. throw grief into the mix and its even worse. cant wait for spring so i can do my walking again. i lost 50 lbs, last year, thanks to my fiance henrys support and us doing a lot of walking, basketball ( which i hadnt played since i was 17!), and tennis, and i have gained it all back, partly because of my grief, ( he died in his sleep from a heart attack july 22 last year), and partly because of winter. next winter i am going to join a gym, or a class, inside, so i can keep some of the weight off.

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