As temperatures cool and days grow shorter, your “get up and go” attitude may head south with the birds! During the winter months, many of us are left feeling less motivated. The National Institute of Health says that common so-called “winter blues” are marked by feeling more down than usual, sad, less energized, or less interested in activities one usually enjoys. Estimates suggest anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of American adults experience such seasonal mood changes at some level. If you find yourself feeling down, sluggish, or not quite yourself during the winter, beat the winter blues with a few simple activities in your daily routine with our simple suggestions here.
1) Balance Your Diet
It is tempting to eat all the heavy, high-carb, comfort foods during the winter, but it is important to maintain a balanced diet, rich in vitamins, to help ward off the winter blues. Studies show a strong connection between diet and mental health, particularly if you are prone to depression. Try adding serotine-boosting foods to help lift your mood, including salmon, poultry, eggs, spinach, seeds, and nuts. Be sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, as well as carbohydrates, such as whole grain breads and pastas, which are needed to help your body create serotonin.
Snacking on nutrient rich foods throughout the day will keep energy levels stable and your mood and your brain functioning. Keep your freezer stocked with frozen fruits and vegetables during months when fresher produce is harder to come by. You can still enjoy your warm comfort foods, while eliminating processed and fried foods. Wake up to a warm bowl of oatmeal with a sliced banana, make a fresh pot of chicken noodle soup, or snack on an apple with nut butter. Try this nutrient filled classic chicken pot pie to warm your belly this winter.
2) Get Outside
Getting outside for your daily dose of sunlight during the winter months could do your body and mind some good. Sunlight elevates our mood by boosting our serotonin levels, making you calmer but more alert. The more Sun you get during the day, the more melatonin you produce at night, improving sleep, synchronizing your bodily clock, and reducing stress. Research also shows that spending time outdoors reduces stress, inspires creativity, and improves your overall mood.
Something as simple as bundling up to take your dog for a walk around the block can do wonders to help you beat the winter blues. Regardless of your age, playing in the snow is a great way to activate the body and release endorphins! Think snowman building, skating, sledding, cross country skiing, and so much more. Embrace the cold for some winter play and head to your local neighborhood park.
3) Seek Light
Sunlight plays are significant role in regulating our mood and our sleep-wake cycles. If getting outside for your daily dose of sunlight isn’t possible, open your blinds or look into purchasing a light therapy lamp. Light boxes attempt to mimic bright outdoor summer light that we miss during the dark winter months, with a much higher intensity than indoor lighting, causing a biochemical change in the brain that improves mood and relieves symptoms of the winter blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Daily use of been shown to improve symptoms of seasonal and nonseasonal depression. Here are tips and criteria for choosing a light box.
4) Be In Awe
According to Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkely “Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world.” While we often associate awe with dramatic, life changing events, we can experience awe in our everyday. Awe can have tremendous health benefits and can calm our nervous systems. During our busy days, intentionally seeking out awe experiences, such as walks in nature, gazing at the night sky, attending a play or concert, has been shown to improve psychological well-being. If you are stuck at home this winter and need a daily dose of awe, bundle up and revel in the beauty of the falling snow to beat the winter blues!
5) Move Your Body
While winter has us craving for the couch and cozy blanket, movement is important year-round. Engaging in regular physical activity releases endorphins, which are natural mood enhancers and are known to alleviate depression. Even short walks outdoors can significantly improve your mood and help you beat the winter blues!
Winter is a great time to indulge in your favorite winter sports, while also getting in some sunlight. Getting the right warm weather gear before heading outdoors in the colder temperatures will make your experience much more enjoyable.
If going outdoors isn’t an option, there are plenty of ways to get your daily dose of exercise indoors. Roll out your yoga mat, join a gym, find an indoor pool, simply dance to some music in your living room, or purchase a mini trampoline. Seek out an exercise partner to provide social interaction and accountability during the trickier months of the year.
6) Practice Hygge
If you’ve got the winter blues, a dose of hygge in your life may ease the chill of the season. Hygge (pronounced hooga) is a Danish term that translates to coziness and is all about embracing the winter season and finding warmth in every situation. The Danes embrace winter as a time to slow down, enjoy being at home, and spend time inside with friends and family. It is an attitude and approach to living that prioritizes togetherness, slow-living, coziness, and gratitude.
The Danes are considered the happiest people in the world, and hygge most likely plays a large part in that. Create a cozy ambiance in your home with scents, lighting, plants, and items in nature, make a fire and incorporate gentle sounds to help improve mood and reduce stress during the winter months. Read more to find out how to bring more hygge into your life.
7) Take Your Vitamins
Fend off the seasonal blues with the proper vitamins. Vitamin D plays a role in regulating mood, maintaining optimum blood sugar levels, and boosting our immune systems. With less sunlight during winter months, our main source of Vitamins D, a large portion of us can become deficient. Omega 3s are also known to improve mood stability, with studies showing that countries with higher consumption rates of fresh fish have significantly lower depression rates, and vice versa.
Melatonin supplements may help you get your circadian rhythm on track during the winter months, which can help combat the winter blues. Vitamin B6 is known to raise serotonin levels, helping to control mood control mood and prevent commons symptoms of SAD, including depression, anxiety, and fatigue. If your body can’t get enough vitamins from natural sources (the Sun and diet), taking natural supplements may help your body adjust to the change.
8) Stay Hydrated
Proper hydration helps combat fatigue and keeps your body functioning optimally, allowing you to beat the winter blues. Proper hydration, regardless of the season, is vital in keeping your energy levels up, your brain functioning, curbing overeating, and regulating mood. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is: About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men. About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women. Add drinking water to part of your daily routine, carry around a bottle, eat fruits and vegetables high in water content, such as cucumbers, celery, watermelon, strawberries, and spinach, drink a glass of water half hour before and after each meal, helping your feel fuller and improve digestion.
Not a fan of plain water? Sprucing up your water can turn an ordinary glass of water into a refreshing and tasty thirst quencher. A squeeze of a lemon or lime can quickly elevate a glass or plain water. Add citrus slices, berries, mint, pomegranate, or cucumber slices to a large pitcher of water and let it sit for a while before drinking. Looking for a healthy sports drink alternative? Try making Haymaker’s switchel. Also, avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a depressant and can leave you feeling bluer.
9) Establish A Regular Sleep Pattern
Researchers have found a link between sleep and depression. This is particularly important when the winter blues come creeping in. Aim to get seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night to feel refreshed. Too much sleep is common in the winter when the sunlight and temperatures decrease and can have adverse effects. Lengthy napping can also negatively impact your nightly sleep cycle, worsening your winter blues. Can’t sleep? Try some of these remedies to ensure your catching all your zzz’s.
10) Take A Winter Getaway
Having something fun and enjoyable to look forward to, like a vacation, will help you keep a positive mindset. Plan a vacation somewhere warm and sunny in the middle of the winter.
11) Establish A Morning Routine
Establishing a positive morning routine will set the tone for the rest of your day. Your winter morning routine doesn’t have to be anything complicated, but rather continue to focus on slowing down and remaining calm and cozy to ease into your day. Rather than reaching for your phone as soon as you roll out of bed, spend your initial wake time on activities that better your mental health: meditate, journal, practice gratitude, exercise, do yoga or stretching.
Allow yourself plenty of time to slowly ease into the day and avoid any unnecessary stress and rushing about. It is also important to get natural sunlight (or sit by a light box, as mentioned above) first thing in the morning to cue your body to wake. Open all your blinds or bundle up in a cozy blanket to enjoy your morning cup of coffee basking in the morning Sun. If time allows, take a brisk walk around the block to stretch your muscles and get your blood pumping to beat the winter blues.
12) Start a Gratitude Journal (Reflect)
It is normal for our brains to focus on the negative things, so reversing your thoughts and focusing on the positive can change your mood. Studies show that focusing on the positive and feeling grateful can improve your sleep quality and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Try keeping a daily journal of things you are grateful for—you can simply list a few things before you begin your day or before you fall asleep each night.
13) Spend Time With Loved Ones
Staying social is important for our health and well-being. Being surrounded by good friends and family creates a support system to help you make the most of the winter months. Socializing can boost your mood and create a sense of belonging and support during the winter months. Host a get-together, listen to music, play board games, and share delicious food.
While technology brings so much to our life, it is beneficial to unplug from time to time, allowing time to reconnect to ourselves. Experts suggest that periodic breaks from your phone and technology and temporarily unplugging from the busyness of life can help recharge your batteries and benefit your well-being. If you’re bored this winter, try allowing your mind to wander and think, rather than pulling out your phone—this has been shown to improve creativity and problem-solving. If you’re struggling with the winter blues, try reducing your screen time, including social media. Unplug from all electronics at least one hour before bedtime to improve your quality of rest.
15) Make A Winter Bucket List
There are so many fun things to do throughout the winter if you really look. Make a list of activities you want to do throughout the winter: read a book you have been putting off, finish a puzzle, organize your photos, or even pick up a new hobby. Winter is a great time to learn new skills that you have been putting off: learning how to play an instrument, learn a new language, how to knit, or pick up a new indoor sport, such as pickleball or indoor tennis. Also mark on your calendar any fun events, concerts, plays, light displays etc. that you want to attend. Don’t forget to add activities that brought you joy as a child. Winter is a great time to make memories for you and your loved ones.
16) Treat Yourself
A little self-pampering goes a long way. Engaging in activities that promote self-care and relaxation can help cultivate a sense of inner peace and beat the winter blues. From indulging in a spa-day, getting a massage, soaking in a warm sudsy bath, to practicing yoga or meditating – self-care can take different forms for different people. Whatever form of self-care helps you relax, find time to indulge in it. Try this full Moon bath ritual any time of the month.
When you find a balance of helping others and taking care of yourself, you will feel better mentally. Using your extra free time to volunteer can bring immense satisfaction and can be a gateway to a healthier mental and emotional space. Research has shown that it leads to lower rates of depression and gives people a sense of purpose.
Check out an animal shelter, drive cancer patients to appointments, help at your local school or church, collect things for those in need, volunteer at a local food bank or library. Look into opportunities at your local rescue squad, veteran’s group, or senior center where you can read to lonely residents or help with crafts.
18) Listen To Music
Listening to music and uplifting songs causes the brain to release dopamine, a feel-good chemical. If you feel those winter blues rolling in, turn on the holiday music or your favorite tunes and dance your blues away.
19) Make A Fire
Sitting by a roaring fire can have a hypnotic and relaxing effect. Studies have shown that sitting by a fire decreases blood pressure and helps you relax. The warmth, smell, and crackling sounds can help soothe and warm you on chilly winter nights. Studies have linked these benefits to evolutionary reasons, as fires have long since been a source of survival. Fires are also a social nexus, bringing people together. Add a cup of warm hot cocoa to your evening and you have a recipe for happiness.
20) Get Cleaning
There is something about a clean, tidy house that makes you feel happy. Studies show that cleaning and decluttering living and workspaces can have a profound impact on stress levels and mood. People with clean and organized homes tend to be happier, more productive, less stressed, and even get better sleep. A dirty and cluttered house may increase cortisol levels and reduce focus, putting unnecessary stress on us.
Clutter distracts us and signals to our brains that our work is never done. Studies indicate that clutter can be linked to procrastination, feeling overwhelmed and lower quality of life. Turn up some music and release some endorphins as you tackle one cleaning job at a time.
21) Laugh Out Loud
Author Victor Hugo once said, “Laughter is the Sun that drives winter away from the human face.” Experts believe that laughter can stimulate processes in your brain that counter depressive symptoms, decreasing stress hormones and lighten your mood. Queue up your winter movie list with some laugh out loud comedies, spend time with friends and loved ones who put a smile on your face, or even try laughter yoga, a popular movement and breathing exercise that cultivates joy and channels your inner child.
A Final Thought
If you believe you are feeling more than a little blue and your mood is affecting your ability to live, you could be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern. You may benefit from speaking to your doctor.
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Natalie LaVolpe is a freelance writer and former special education teacher. She is dedicated to healthy living through body and mind. She currently resides on Long Island, New York, with her husband, children, and dog.