Help Your Students and Staff Beat the Winter Blues

Help Your Students and Staff Beat the Winter Blues
Help Your Students and Staff Beat the Winter Blues

School Health and Wellness//

February 1, 2022

With cold weather, shorter days, and a lack of sunshine usually comes decreased energy, sadness, and irritability. Known as the “winter blues,” these moods, common during the winter months, can negatively impact your school community.

What Are the Winter Blues?

The “winter blues” describes feelings of sadness, lethargy, and general unhappiness during the fall and winter months. During these seasons, sunlight levels decrease, which can disrupt the body’s internal clock and rhythms, as well as cause serotonin levels—a brain chemical that affects mood—to decrease. The winter blues is not a medical diagnosis, rather it is a common, mild reaction to the change in seasons.

Combat the Winter Blues in the Classroom

Changes in sleeping habits, a decrease in energy levels, and less outdoor time due to cold weather make it difficult for your students to stay focused and energized through the school day. Here are five ways to engage your students and counteract the winter blues.

1. Take movement breaks

Even though it may be too cold to go outside, studies show that when children can move around throughout the school day, their concentration levels, behavior, and mood improve. Take a few five-minute breaks to dance, play charades, or follow a short movement video together. Talk about the importance of exercise and other healthy habits.

2. Mix up your classroom routine

Change the pace of the day by switching the order of events or subjects. If you notice your students are struggling to focus, ask for a volunteer to come to the front of the class to help you demonstrate a concept. You could even change the seating arrangement or provide alternate seating options like balance balls or cushions.

3. Incorporate bright colors

Contrast the dull and gray outside with a bright and colorful classroom design. Turn a blank wall into a showcase for students’ artwork or bring in new decorations to liven up your space and engage your students. Wear bright-colored clothing and encourage students to do the same.

4. Plan a special activity

Add excitement to a regular school day by organizing a fun activity. Students could earn this activity by completing tasks, exhibiting good behavior, or because of academic achievement.

Here are some activity ideas:

  • Involve your students in activities related to an upcoming holiday
  • Make snow ice cream
  • Have a pajama and hot cocoa day
  • Make snow volcanoes

5. Organize a class project that helps others

Acts of kindness and expressing gratitude are shown to improve a person's mood and broaden their perspective. Have your students write thank-you notes to school faculty—and even their own family members.

Plan for students to write encouraging notes to each other, or decorate cards for patients at a local nursing home or hospital specific to an upcoming holiday. Another project is a kindness chain where students write an act of kindness they experienced on a slip of paper. These slips are linked and then displayed in your classroom, and students can add to the chain throughout the year with more acts of kindness.


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Support Teachers During Wintertime

The “winter blues” do not just affect students—they also are felt by your teachings and can make their lives more difficult. Although there is no way to prevent the onset of the winter blues, communicating ways to manage the symptoms is a way to support your teachers. Here are some ideas to get started.

  • Incorporate special programs or activities during the winter months to provide your teachers with a break from routine. Staying social can help combat winter blues, so provide opportunities for teachers to interact with one another.
  • Advocate for holistic healthy habits, like exercising, self-care, and practicing gratitude.
  • Recommend light therapy—exposure to artificial light that mimics natural outdoor light, which is proven to help with forms of depression.
  • Model positivity in your emails, conversations, and meetings. Encourage your teachers to do likewise in their classrooms and with their peers.

While the winter blues can cause lethargy and feeling down, they should not affect your ability to enjoy life and should be temporary. How do you know when the winter blues might be something more?

Many symptoms of the winter blues mirror those of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a subtype of major depression related to the change in seasons. SAD often starts in the fall and continues into the winter months when there is less natural light. The Mayo Clinic lists these common signs and symptoms to look out for:

  • Loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy
  • Low energy and feeling sluggish nearly every day
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Oversleeping or trouble sleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially cravings for foods high in carbohydrates

Everyone has “off” days, but if you notice any of your students or teachers showing a consistent lack of motivation and energy, have a conversation with them. If symptoms increase and prolong, recommend they seek help from a psychiatrist or their primary care physician.

As we use these techniques to support each other through the winter months, we can look forward to our annual springtime rejuvenation!

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