Tips to Lighten the Blue Days of Winter

By Erin Olyer Rohlf, LCSW

Hello, readers! My name is Erin, and I’m a local mental health therapist. As a new columnist for The Denver North Star, I hope to bring you empowering wisdom and tips to look after your mental health and well-being.

Let’s get this party started by talking about seasonal affective disorder, also known as the winter blues.

We are blessed in Denver to have the occasional unseasonably sunny winter day, even in the depths of the season. As I write this, Denver is expected to reach a high of 61 degrees. Still, winter’s diminishing sunlight sinks our feel-good brain chemical serotonin levels, and our mood follows. That, combined with shorter daylight hours, the dearth of greenness giving way to brown and other factors leave us “blah” from November through the turning of the calendar into spring and summer.

Here are three ways to beat the blues:

1: Try something new and novel. Research shows that new, unique experiences can give you a rush of the reward chemical dopamine. Forcing ourselves out of our rut can build new connections between brain neurons, something us therapy geeks call “brain plasticity.” Winter is the ideal time to try something new just for the sake of trying something new, especially during snow days when we’re cooped up. 

Trying something new doesn’t have to mean risking your neck with extreme sports or spending your paycheck on equipment for a new hobby. It’s as easy as taking a more scenic route home after work or opening your mind and spice rack to unique flavor combinations in the kitchen. Your newly created cardamom/garam masala/mystery spice cookie could be the next Instagram food star as well as a tasty metaphor for spicing up your life! Whatever new, novel idea you experiment with, remember that embracing the newness, rather than the outcome, reaps the best mental health benefits.

2: Seek out sunlight, be it a southern-facing seat at the coffee shop or outside. North Denverites have several lakes and walking paths to choose from for a brisk walk. In fact, studies show brisk exercise to be a potent antidote to some forms of depression, with no side effects. Here’s more good news: You don’t need to embark on a fitness kick to feel the uplifting effects of being outdoors. Inking in a mandala in your adult coloring book, gossiping on the phone or scrolling mindlessly through Facebook can be healthy if done outdoors while in sunshine. Don’t want to fight the throngs of fitness seekers jogging around Sloan’s Lake on a beautiful Saturday? Stroll slowly through one of our historic neighborhoods and admire the beautiful architecture from back in the day. I highly suggest a walk near West 36th Avenue and Quivas Street to take in the incredible art deco brickwork of Bryant-Webster Elementary School (my third-grade alma mater). North Denver is replete with beautiful houses and quaint coffee shops to discover.

3: Do something nice for someone else. Research shows that volunteering and random acts of kindness soothe our souls by fostering an outlook of generosity. Buying coffee for someone experiencing homelessness, handing off an unused coat to somebody shivering at a bus stop or walking a neighbor’s dog serve as micro kindnesses.

Please note: If the blues get the best of you, reach out to a trusted friend or family member, or a professional therapist. Prefer to keep your feelings confidential? I get it. You can always call the free Colorado Crisis Services at 844-493-8255, or text “TALK” to 38255 for 24/7 emotional support.

Erin Olyer Rohlf is a licensed clinical social worker, professional therapist and founder of Higher Healing and Wellness, LLC. Call her at 720-644-1400 or email her at for information or to suggest ideas for future columns.

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