Navigating The Winter Blues

Students reflect on their feelings about winter, including its challenges, and share their coping strategies through a poem, a circle, and exploration of the "wheel of holistic health."

 person walking in the snow

Photo by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash

Materials Needed:

  • Smartboard or copies of poem
  • Copies of “Wheel of Holistic Health” handout
  • 4 colors of sticky notes
  • Pens or markers
  • Sheet of chart Paper

In this circle-based activity, students will explore their feelings about winter. They will reflect on and examine how parts of themselves respond to the season, and then draw connections between their feelings and these responses.


Opening Ceremony (10 minutes):

Read “Winter Poem” by Nikki Giovanni

Reading options:

  • Have a volunteer read it aloud and then have everyone read it silently and independently
  • Go around and have each person read one line and then have everyone read it silently and independently
  • You read it and then have students read it silently and independently

After reading the poem, invite students to share their responses to the following questions:

  • What is one thing you enjoy about winter?
  • What is one thing about winter that’s challenging for you?

Students may share by passing a talking piece around the circle or having a few volunteers share their thoughts.

After sharing, make connections between what was shared and create a space for any other impressions or feelings that may be coming up for students to voice.

Distribute handout with poem or project on Smartboard.


Winter Poem - Nikki Giovanni

once a snowflake fell

on my brow and i loved

it so much and i kissed

it and it was happy and called its cousins

and brothers and a web

of snow engulfed me then

i reached to love them all

and i squeezed them and they became

a spring rain and i stood perfectly

still and was a flower

Nikki Giovanni, “Winter Poem” from The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni. Copyright © 1996 by Nikki Giovanni. Courtesy of HarperCollins Publisher.

Main Activity: 

Elicit, or explain, to students that you may notice in yourself, or those around you, a strong sense of sadness or lack of interest during the winter season. There is science that proves that there are physical changes happening to us during this time. It's not just a feeling! The sun provides us with vitamin D, which, in turn, creates serotonin, otherwise known as the “happy hormone.” With less sun exposure during the winter, we produce less serotonin and may find ourselves experiencing what is commonly called the “winter blues.”

Using the Holistic Wheel of Health, which is inspired by the Native American medicine wheel, we will explore how the four aspects of self combine to make us holistic being. These aspects can be strengthened to help us find balance and feel more centered during this season.

Distribute “Wheel of Holistic Health" handout or project image on Smartboard.

Identifying Current Feelings & Behaviors (10 minutes):

The four quadrants of the holistic wheel represent the individual aspects that work together to create our whole selves: The physical mental, emotional and spiritual (sense of purpose) components of our identities. Let's start with identifying how we feel and behave during winter. Is it different from the rest of the year? If so, how? Which quadrant does this fall under?

You can start off by answering the questions to serve as a model for your students and spark their thinking. 


  • I feel less motivated to work towards my goals in the winter, this falls under the mental quadrant.
  • I feel less active and sleepier, this falls under the physical quadrant.
    • I feel less motivated to work towards my goals = Mental quadrant (inside of circle) Strategy: I can give myself grace and take time off toward one specific goal (outside of circle)


Give students think time to process and reflect upon their feelings, and then pass around the talking piece. 

Distribute the “Wheel of Holistic Health” handout if you haven't already done so. Distribute pens/markers to each student.

Invite students to reflect on the following question and then complete the accompanying task:

What are some other feelings or behaviors that come up for you during winter? Take some time to fill out the wheel with these feelings/behaviors. Write them into the quadrant you feel fits them best. 

Give students at least five minutes to do this.


Identifying Strategies to Cope (10 minutes):

Introduce the next part of the activity by saying: “Now that we know how we feel and behave, we’re going to think about what we can do to support ourselves through this challenging season.”

Outside of each quadrant, invite students to write strategies that may address and support each of the feelings/behaviors they listed inside the circle.

You can start by sharing your own response. Here is an example:

  • I feel less active and sleepier = Physical quadrant (inside of circle) 

Strategy: I can practice a short indoor morning or evening movement routine that feels good in my body (outside of circle)


Examples of other strategies to share:

  • Stay organized with a planner - Embrace what you do have control over, let go of what you do not have control over.
  • Try a new form of exercise or movement - Find something new and different to do with your body to generate positive feelings or, even, excitement.
  • Try a new hobby - Engage in an activity you wouldn’t normally do during other times of the year.
  • Avoid hanging out with people who don’t make you feel good - Your “happy hormone” is dependent on being around people that bring you joy.


Sharing Strategies to Cope (10 minutes):

  • Share with students: “Now we’ll be sharing our strategies with each other. Even if our feelings or behaviors may not be the same, a strategy of yours may benefit others.”
  • Post and prepare chart paper with the “Wheel of Holistic Health” drawn on it. Ensure the circle takes up the whole chart paper.
  • Color-code your sticky notes. Have one color for each aspect of the Wheel of Holistic Health: Physical, Mental, Emotional, & Spiritual (Sense of Purpose).
  • Invite students to choose no more than strategies from each quadrant. Then invite them to write each strategy on its corresponding color-coded sticky note for that quadrant.
  • Invite students to place sticky notes in the appropriate quadrant on the large circle represented on the chart paper.
  • You should then have a circle full of coping strategies that came directly from your students. Post this chart in a prominent place in the room to serve as a visual reference during these often challenging winter months.


Closing (10 minutes):


Give students time to look at what everyone has shared by calling up small groups of four or five to view the chart paper and then return to the circle.

Once all students have viewed the chart paper, bring it over to the center of the circle. Invite a few volunteers to read what was contributed under each quadrant.

 Then facilitate a go-round using any, or all, of the questions below: 

  • How did this activity make you feel?
  • Did you see a strategy that you’d like to try? Which one and why?
  • What's one thing that you are taking away with you from today’s session about navigating the “winter blues”?

Thank students for sharing their feelings and strategies during this session.