Jody Collins pulls his grandchildren around their yard on a toboggan Monday, Dec. 26, in Canton. Sitting on the toboggan from left are: Zoey Collins, 3, Annie Knight-Collins, 2, Tobias Collins, 6, and Maylynne Collins, 8. Their father, Jacob Knight, is in the background. Getting outside for a while — sunlight, fresh air, a little exercise — is a top suggestion for warding off the winter blues. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Maine winters are tough. Days seem to melt into each other when it gets dark every day by 4 p.m. Winter weather often means that going outside is in itself an event between bundling up to brave the elements, carefully tiptoeing around ice and shoveling your car out from the snow. The holidays can also be difficult with complicated family relationships, faraway hometowns, reminders of a lost loved one or just dealing with holiday travel.

In other words, according to this intrepid writer’s scientific conclusion, these long months can suck.

That “winter blues” feeling is an actual, diagnosable clinical condition called seasonal affective disorder – aptly shortened to SAD – a type of depression associated with the changing seasons that people most commonly experience in the winter.

“Many people – possibly most – experience decreased energy, increased need for sleep, concentration problems, low motivation and more frequent feelings of sadness during the dark months of winter,” said Dr. Dylan McKenney, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston.

“Winter in the Northeast can be a perfect storm – pardon the pun – of challenges to our mood: the shorter days, holiday stress and the cold keeping us indoors,” Dr. Jessica Pollard, a psychologist and systems director of behavioral health for Central Maine Healthcare, told me.

“On top of the daylight and temperature effects, the holidays can be a really hard time for many people. Even ‘good stress’ can tax our usual coping resources,” said Pollard, who was previously the director of the Office of Behavioral Health at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.


While SAD may only be a temporary condition, it remains important to address those feelings now, according to clinicians I spoke with.

For starters, everyone I spoke with said to get outside. Even just a quick walk around the block to get some sunlight, fresh air and physical exercise can really help. Or maybe this is your year to finally try your hand at skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing or other wintertime activity.

In other words, getting outside doesn’t have to mean booking an expensive ski vacation or trip to the Caribbean.

“Spending a day ice fishing can be like the winter equivalent of going to the beach,” McKenney said. “Getting out on a frozen lake can involve skating, cross-country skiing, playing frisbee, taking long walks, being out in the sun and getting plenty of fresh air.”

And if you can’t get outside for whatever reason, let as much natural sunlight in your home as possible during the daylight hours and get some sort of physical activity in, even if it’s just exercises from a chair, suggested Tri-County Mental Health Services chief executive officer Catherine Ryder and clinical supervisor Tracy Riggins.

“It is also important to stay connected to social supports,” the two said. “Connection to supports can be challenging in the winter. However, even reaching out with text messages, phone calls and video calls can have a very uplifting impact on someone’s well-being.”


Bright light therapy can also make a difference. You can buy “happy” lights from most online retailers but if that’s out of the budget or just not your thing, replacing some or all the lights around your home with daylight spectrum light bulbs can have a similar effect, McKenney said.

“It sounds simple but scheduling time to do things you enjoy, getting moderate exercise and spending time around supportive people can go a long way,” Pollard said.

Curious to hear what some people’s favorite wintertime activities are, I asked around.

Pollard said she loves baking, sledding, going for walks and playing outside with her son.

“Warming up my house and filling it with delicious smells really lifts my spirits and there’s even been recent research that baking for others can be a mood boost!” she said.

The Sun Journal’s Mark LaFlamme – ever heard of him? – said time with his electronic drum kit is “better than vitamin D.” Not sure about that, my fine fellow reporter, but if it works for you . . .


Education reporter Vanessa Paolella said it’s “super important” for her to find outdoor activities. She’s learning how to ski, both downhill and cross-country. (I heard she scored some sick deals on equipment at the annual Auburn ski swap.)

Personally, I’m with Pollard and love to bake. By the time you’re reading this, I will have (hopefully) gone on a holiday cookie baking bonanza and delivered treat-filled packages to friends. I also play in an indoor kickball league. We’re called the “Turkey Fingers” (I couldn’t tell you why), we’ve lost every game so far this season and I look forward to it every week.

And at the end of the day, there are resources and trained professionals who can help you navigate this tough time of year.

“If you find that you are really struggling with low mood for more days than not and can’t seem to shake it, don’t hesitate to talk to your primary care doctor,” who can help connect you with mental health services, Pollard said.

There are several other resources available to Mainers at the Strengthen ME website at or at (207) 221-8198. Maine’s intentional warmline is available 24/7 at 866-771-9276/WARM.

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