Q: I've been feeling blue this winter. What can I do to shake those feelings?

A: The transition to winter may trigger depression and anxiety — up to 12 percent of the population suffers from distressing seasonal mood changes, including disturbances in sleep and eating patterns.

For people who suffer from depression and anxiety, there are three types of mechanisms that may be at work.

Some people respond to symptoms of depression by continually thinking about their causes and consequences. But that negative thinking-feeling-doing cycle can fuel depression even more.

We may also harbor long-standing negative beliefs about ourselves, the world, and how things will turn out in the future, which can increase emotional vulnerability.  Believing "I need to be perfect in order to succeed," or "I'm worthless and will never measure up to others," can worsen one's mood.

Generally, pessimistic people are more likely to pay attention to anything negative that happens, either inside themselves or within their environment.  This "negative information bias" acts like a magnifying glass for all that's not going well.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and positive psychology offer some practical, evidence-based ways to break these negative cycles.  A common CBT exercise involves identifying reasons your negative thoughts or beliefs aren't true — or helpful — and then writing them down to support a more realistic, positive view.  To train yourself to focus on the positive, you can:

  • Document one positive experience you have each day and share it with a friend or relative.
  • Write a letter expressing gratitude to someone or something.
  • Become better acquainted with your personal strengths.
  • Perform an act of kindness for someone and reflect on how you felt doing it.
  • Plan a meaningful or enjoyable activity.

If you are experiencing anxiety and depression, self-help exercises alone may not be enough, so consider seeking the assistance of a licensed professional. In addition to counseling, practice positivity in a structured way on your own to help yourself build positive thinking habits that endure over time.

Scott Glassman, PsyD, directs "A Happier You," a positive psychology group program at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.