How to Embrace Winter and Stay Sober

A photograph of a woman wearing a grey sweater and a beanie standing before a cold beach.

Updated on 12/28/23

Even the sunniest places like Southern California can feel cold and get dark early during the winter, causing isolation and depression. The lack of sunlight, shorter days and shift in climate can make life feel bleak and dull. You might find that winter makes your mental health issues harder to deal with, especially if you experience anxiety, depression or a substance use disorder. In addition, the holidays can present temptations and triggers that can make staying sober during the winter particularly difficult. Reframing your mindset to embrace winter can go a long way in helping you stay sober.

How Winter Affects Sobriety

Typically, a lack of vitamin D and sunlight can cause winter blues or even seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Symptoms of SAD follow a seasonal pattern and include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Less energy
  • Increased hunger or appetite changes
  • Social isolation
  • Depression or losing interest in hobbies

Although Southern California is primarily sunny, the arrival of winter can still cause a shift in feelings and emotions. The shorter days can alter your normal waking and sleeping cycles, throwing off your regular routines.

Even if you are getting enough sunlight during the winter, the holiday season might have caused you to spend more money than usual, have negative interactions with family members or feel socially pressured to break your sobriety. After the holidays have passed, the days can drag by slowly, making the winter months monotonous, dull and isolating.

These negative feelings and experiences can make recovery feel even harder to navigate. However, understanding exactly how winter affects you and your sobriety can help make recovery easier.

Embracing Winter

Learning to embrace the enjoyable, exciting parts of winter—no matter how small—can help change your mindset towards winter and lessen its damaging effects. Having a positive outlook can benefit you in recovery as you focus on the good in your situation.

Although winter days can be gloomy and dark, applying mindfulness to your winter days can help you remain present in each moment. Mindfulness can help you focus on your emotions rather than avoiding them, making sure you deal with painful feelings in healthier ways.

Staying present and checking in with yourself can also help you notice when you are experiencing cravings. Taking note of what is triggering you can help you avoid those situations in the future or prepare in case they happen again.

You can also plan fun, exciting things to do while you wait for longer, brighter days. Having something to look forward to can help break up the repetitiveness of dull, depressing days and bring warmth into your life even when it may be chilly outside.

Sober-Friendly Ideas to Help You Combat Winter Blues

You can do many things to help pass the time and keep your spirits up during the bitter winter months that are sober, simple and easy. You can make a list of some of the ideas that catch your eye and make a plan to incorporate them into your days. Here are some fun, sober things to do during winter:

Journal: Journaling is a great way to help you stay present and vent your feelings. You can keep track of the days in creative ways like bullet journaling, a personalized journaling method that can be extremely artistic or simple, depending on your preferences.

Go to the beach: Even though going to the beach can be colder than usual, bundling up and taking time to enjoy the sounds and sights of the ocean can help lift your spirits and get you some much-needed Vitamin D.

Take up yoga: Yoga can be a great way to learn how to stay present and mindful, especially those that teach you how to focus on your breath. A study in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience says that getting your body moving can release serotonin, improving your mood and benefiting your recovery.

Host a board game night: Playing board games can bring your friends together in a sober-friendly way. If you cannot meet in person, there are several virtual gaming options available for free or you can host a group video chat and play that way.

Cultivate indoor plants: A study in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology says that interacting with indoor plants can help reduce stress. When the winter months are dark and dismal, having indoor plants can add green to your space and lift your mood.

Take a class: Taking a class in something you are interested in can help you get out of the house and learn something that engages your mind. You might meet new friends who share your interests or learn a fun skill or hobby.

Go to a support group: An in-person or virtual support group meeting can help give you a safe place to talk about your feelings concerning winter and receive support from others who feel similarly. In addition, if you are having trouble with your recovery, a support group meeting can help ensure you are on track to staying sober.

At Casa Palmera, our highly-trained and compassionate staff understands that even though winters can be primarily sunny in California, changes in climate can still make anxiety, depression and substance abuse disorders harder to tackle. We realize that winter can make it hard to stay sober, which is why we offer evidence-based, personalized treatments. Whether you are a new patient or alumni, Casa Palmera helps support you in sober living, providing holistic techniques that set you up for success in recovery. If you are struggling to stay sober this winter, call Casa Palmera today at (855) 508-0473 for more information on how we can help.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.