Caregiver's Corner

328 West Conan Street
Ely, Minnesota 55731


Cures for the Winter Blues

This is the time of year for craving spring! Many people feel they are losing their minds being cooped up inside for days on end and are tired of battling the cold weather. This cooping-up experience has come to be known as cabin fever. Cabin fever is defined as “a state characterized by anxiety, restlessness, and boredom, arising from a prolonged stay in a remote or confined place.” Your ‘place’ could be in your home or it could be in your mind.


The American Medical Association characterize the symptoms of cabin fever as:

• A lack of patience
• Always feeling tired
• Feeling unproductive and unmotivated
• Feeling sad or depressed
• Lethargy
• Difficulty concentrating
• Craving carbohydrates or sugar
• Difficulty waking in the morning
• Social withdrawal
• Irritability


Depression is also common in the winter months. A percentage of the population suffers from an affliction called “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” or SAD. In people with SAD, the lack of natural sunlight in the winter time upsets the sleep-wake cycle and other body rhythms, as well as the release of serotonin, one of the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals.


So, what are some KEYS to overcome cabin fever and beat the winter blues?

**Creativity and thinking outside the box may be necessary during these months.


Keep the Mind Active

  • Keep the mind active- by participating in mental exercises.
  • Purchase games such as crossword puzzles or Sudoku, buy jigsaw puzzles or other hobby items to entertain and keep the mind thinking and analyzing.
  • Consider shutting off all the electronics and UNPLUG for a while. Decrease your screen time and do things that are more interactive like reading books, magazines or breaking out a game board/puzzle. The key is to stimulate the brain and interact with others.
  • If a senior is hearing or vision impaired, look to the local library for books on tape.


Keep the Body Active      

  • Get regular exercise - Even if seniors cannot get outside, they can find ways to be active in their homes. They can use an exercise DVD or VHS tape or stream a video from the Internet. They can walk laps around their home. Many seniors may have a home exercise plan prescribed by a therapist. This exercise plan may include simple sit to stand and leg lift exercises. On days when it is warmer, they can go for a walk with a family member or caregiver.
  • Physical activity lowers the emission of physiological chemicals in the body that bring on anxiety and depression. This makes exercising especially beneficial for people with the winter blues. Working out also relieves stress and, when people are more relaxed, they are less likely to remain in a depressive state, according to the Mayo Clinic. Snowshoeing, cross country skiing, sledding or taking your camera on a winter walk to capture the beauty of the season can be enjoyable.
  • If you can’t go for a walk in the great outdoors, the next best thing is a regular indoor exercise routine. Shopko walking, fitness centers (Studio North, Heavy Metal) or Matter of Balance classes or Tai Ji Quan offered by Northwoods Partners.
  • Indoors- turn up the music and dance, dance, dance!


Focus on Nutrition

Foods with too much sugar or caffeine can make seniors feel jittery or alter their moods. Foods such as pasta and other carbohydrates often leave a person feeling tired and sluggish, which adds to the winter blues. Take advantage of fresh fruits this time of the year, such as apples and oranges. Eat small, balanced meals regularly rather than skipping meals and eating larger meals later in the day.

Stay hydrated!

Winter is a very dry season so drink plenty of water! **A drop of just 2% in body water causes short term memory problems and significant difficulties with concentration. Good hydration helps you become mentally alert throughout the day.

Eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible and consider Vitamin D supplement benefits.


Social Interactions are a MUST

Even if you cannot get out of the house for days at a time, you still can interact with others.  Chat online; send messages on Facebook or Skype or Facetime with long-distance family. Call family and friends on the phone.

Consider church events and meals, breakfast or lunch outings with friends or coffee get-togethers when able.


Find Productive Activities

Indulge in a hobby. Dig out something fun to do. Perhaps you love to knit but haven’t touched the needles in ages. Maybe you want to brush up on your painting skills. The Dollar Store offers lots of activity ideas for cheap. Even less creative endeavors, like organizing that closet that always has stuff falling out on your head, can keep you busy and feeling productive.


LET in the LIGHT

The winter blues are often intensified by the lack of sunlight common in the colder months. You can boost your mood by opening the blinds so sun shines through your windows. Also, spend some time outdoors, even when sunlight is faint in the winter; the direct sunlight is healthy for people

  • Light therapy, or phototherapy, has been proven to help people with seasonal affective disorder. For this treatment, patients sit a few feet away from a box that emits bright light. According to the Mayo Clinic, the light emulates sunlight and alters the chemicals in the human brain that are connected to mood. The light therapy sessions should last from half an hour to 90 minutes a day during the winter



Consider local charities, hospital, organizations that would benefit from volunteer help. Often Caregivers and Care Receivers can volunteer together and both parties will get an emotional boost.


Get out of town

The most drastic of cabin fever cases will benefit greatly from a ticket to the warm South or to a Caribbean Island. If you cannot afford such a trip, take a mini-vacation up the North Shore or to Minneapolis to a spa, gym or even a shopping mall where you can move around and revitalize yourself.



  • Visit greenhouses or do winter gardening in the home or start perusing the seed catalog to plant your spring garden. Keep a bouquet of fresh flowers and fresh fruits on your table, plan an indoor winter picnic or other themed get-togethers.
  • Join community education classes (cooking, language, fitness, hobbies).
  • Attend movies at the theater, local plays and music concerts, bring out the board games and invite others in, or be a tourist and visit a local museum or attraction.
  • Even decluttering and organizing your home can create a sense of productivity, order, and free up more usable space.
  • Self-care is also important. Massages, aromatherapy, a trip to the hair salon, manicures, and pedicures (even for men) may offer some relief and uplift, as well.

~Adapted from Cures for the Winter Blues by Kris Dwyer

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