How Faith Helps the Winter Blues & Much More

How Faith Helps the Winter Blues & Much More February 23, 2024

Faith may help depression, whether it’s a mild case of the winter blues or something more serious. (Courtesy Pixaby / Abbat1)

Another day, another heavy gray sky, another cold rain…. Follow that dreary weather pattern with a huge (and thankfully rare) snowstorm. Then, add a Covid-19 quarantine and an eye infection to the nasty mix, and you might feel downright depressed. But faith helps the winter blues and much more.

I’m fortunate that my short-term doldrums are fading, but some people suffer from the winter blues or more serious forms of depression all winter. One source of help for Christians is God, who provides strength, hope and love.

The role of faith in helping people overcome the winter blues or worse emotional problems has gone back and forth for roughly two centuries, maybe longer.

In the early 19th century, some reformers concluded that faith could help people suffering from mental and emotional problems. Religious organizations began to play an important role in caring for those in need.

Then, the pendulum began to swing in the opposite direction as doctors such as Sigmund Freud started associating religion with neurosis and hysteria.

Only in recent years has the pendulum swung back to recognizing that faith helps the winter blues and other more serious forms of depression.

Hearing from the Experts

“A spiritual practice can often give people the strength and confidence to push through obstacles and make positive changes,” says marriage and family therapist Vanessa Villasenor.

In her online article, “How Focusing on Your Faith Can Help with Depression & Anxiety,” Villasenor writes that “a belief in a loving power greater than ourselves can help us feel hopeful, even in our darkest hours….

“Whether it’s through praying, meditating, or attending some sort of spiritual service or gathering, faith-filled people tend to experience positive changes in their attitudes and behaviors.”

Studies that look at the relationship between faith and mental health confirm that people who are “religiously engaged tend to experience fewer symptoms of depression and may recover more quickly… than those who are less religiously involved,” says the National Library of Medicine.

One study, which was published in “The American Journal of Psychiatry” in 2011, reported a 76 percent decrease in major depression among high-risk adults who were highly spiritual or religious.


“A recent review of a large body of studies strongly suggests that spiritual practices may be associated with changes in the brain, including increasing serotonin levels,” according to Marwa Azab, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of psychology and human development at California State University, Long Beach.

In her post, “Can Religion Help with Depression?” Azab says depression is a brain disorder that causes loss of your gray matter, which is crucial to mental functions such as emotions, as well as memory and movement. The greater your depression, the greater the loss.

But research shows that people who value religion and spirituality reduce their risk of losing gray matter, and thus, their risk of depression. (Read more about this subject in Psychiatric Times.)

Hearing from Laypeople

Several contributors to Patheos have written about faith and depression, and I’m providing links to some of the articles:

Experiencing the Winter Blues

The winter blues – unlike seasonal affective disorder, or SAD – are usually mild, but they can make you feel miserable. You may experience…

  • Fatigue
  • Sadness
  • Hopeless feelings
  • Excessive sleepiness or insomnia
  • Changes in appetite
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • A desire to withdraw from friends and family

Yet, faith helps the winter blues and other forms of depression.

Praying & Meditating

Regular spiritual practices such as prayer or meditation can bring us closer to God and give us strength. When we suffer from the winter blues, we tend to feel drained and exhausted much of the time. Even praying may require more energy than we think we have.

But God hears our prayers, including the short, desperate ones such as a simple “Help!”

Christ tells us, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29 (NLT)).

The thought of finding rest in your soul is compelling.

One of the most peaceful moments in my life occurred during a hectic Christmas season several years ago. I was sitting in the sanctuary of my church, waiting for a Christmas program to begin.

As I waited, a guitarist at the front of the church leaned on a stool and softly played Christmas music — not lively carols, but less known songs. I closed my eyes, prayed and listened to the music, and my stress, anxiety and tension melted away. In their place was a feeling of peace that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

A Feeling of Hope

Chaplain Theresa Borchard, who writes about spirituality and emotional health, says faith gives people hope.

“Of all my sanity tools, my faith is what has kept me alive during severe depressive episodes. When I’m convinced that no one else could comprehend the intense suffering I’m experiencing, I cling to my belief in a God who created me for a reason, who knows my pain more intimately than any other human being, and who will see me through to the other side,” Borchard says.

She explains that signs from God have given her great comfort during difficult times, as they have for me. They “have provided me immense comfort during critical times in my mental health journey; they’re consolation that God is with me.

“They’ve even saved my life at times, reminding me that although I can’t always feel God’s love, He is with me,” Borchard adds. “For a nonbeliever, I know it may appear lame to depend on such ‘signs’ from God – superstitious attempts to make sense out of nothing.”

I, too, look for signs from God.

At times, I wonder about nonbelievers. How do they get through life without a higher power who loves them unconditionally, guides them in the direction they should go and lifts them up when they are down?

Many non-believers may say they do quite well on their own, but I have no interest in trying it.

Having a Security Net

Faith provides two kinds of support (and maybe more): One type of support comes from God, and the other comes from fellow Christians.

An anonymous Christian described support from God this way: “When I’m convinced that no one else could comprehend the intense suffering I’m experiencing, I cling to my belief in a God who created me for a reason, who knows my pain more intimately than any human being, and who will see through to the other side.”

His support is unmatched. Then, there’s human support.

“One consistent key to happiness is weaving a network of support for yourself,” according to Borchard. “We all need a security net. If you go to church regularly – and especially if you get involved in your parish or church community – that support is provided.”

Those words express the sentiments of many Christians.

Finding Redemption

Borchard notes that the Bible is filled with stories about people who are mired in terrible situations yet find redemption and purpose. Job is a prime example. Even more powerful is the story of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

“The Psalms are full of verses of inspiration for those caught in depression’s hold, saying that God is there in our trials and will carry us through the valley of despair,” Borchard adds.

Sharing My Thoughts

I’ve battled depression at different times in my life. Some episodes have been rougher than others, but regardless of the severity, I have always depended on God.

And while I don’t pretend to be an expert on depression or faith, I do believe God led me through those difficult times for a reason. In fact, I know he did.

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