7 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

It's normal to feel a little blue during the winter, but these tips will have you back to your old self in no time.

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Jan 26, 2016

6 ways to beat the winter blues

“To every thing there is a season,” we read in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” For some of us, though, winter is more a season of discontent than one of purpose. From “blahs” to “blues” to clinical seasonal depression, the cold, blustery months can leave us feeling depleted, sluggish, and sad. Warm your heart and soul with these tips for boosting your mood this winter.

1) Get a Move On

Study after study links exercise with increased levels of serotonin and dopamine, two mood-related hormones that become off-balance when a person is depressed. Finding the motivation to get outside or to the gym can be challenging when it’s cold out, but there are things you can do to boost your emotional and physical health. Make (and stick to) an exercise routine. Try sweat-inducing winter activities like ice skating, skiing, or snowshoeing,  or invest in ways small (a workout app) and large (a treadmill or elliptical trainer) to make exercise an option when leaving your house isn’t.  Even a simple walk, outside or in a mall, can make a difference.

2) Eat Mood-Lifting Foods

Even when the supermarket is not overflowing with fresh berries or summer fruits, you can find foods that are known to have a positive impact on mood. Winter squash and sweet potatoes are great choices because of their anti-inflammatory properties and feel-good nutrients magnesium and potassium. Lean proteins like fish and chicken help regulate energy, dark greens contain folic acid, which has been linked with improved mood, and whole grains from oatmeal to wheat berries feed the part of your brain that regulates mood. There’s even good news for java junkies—new research  shows regular coffee drinkers are less likely to be depressed than those who don’t drink coffee.  It’s a good idea to stay away from refined sugar, which causes energy fluctuations that can lead to that “crash” feeling.

3) Embrace the Season

Even if winter isn’t your favorite time of year, try to focus on find its cozy side. Light a crackling fire, brew a pot of tea, and wrap yourself in a fuzzy blanket.  Read a good book or watch a favorite movie. Take some time to watch snow falling out a window, or get outside for a snowball fight or a quiet, snowy walk. Most of all, remember that soon, winter will be but a memory.

4) Start a Winter Project

When the weather is bad, we tend to spend more time at home. Make those hours count by taking on an enjoyable, achievable project.  Give some rooms in your house a fresh coat of paint to brighten your outlook—literally. Organize your house paperwork (old bills make great kindling!). Gather old toys, clothes, and housewares to donate and experience the gratification of giving back. “As you see progress on your project, you’ll be reminded that winter, too, is moving forward to spring, and that you aren’t stuck in one cold spot forever,” says Therese Borchard, founder of Project Beyond Blue, an online depression support community.

5) Grow Something Green

You might feel like green thumbs hibernate for the winter, but actually the cold season is a fine time to get your hands dirty. Poring over seed catalogs, with their luscious photos of a rainbow of flowers, fruits, and vegetables, is a classic winter pastime among serious gardeners. You might give it a try even if you don’t have much outdoor space to till, just to remind yourself of the colorful beauty of nature. If planting isn’t your forte, visit your local garden center and pick up a few hardy indoor plants that thrive without much care. Your air will be fresher, and your eyes will love having something green to look at all winter long.

6) Watch Your Vitamin D

Vitamin D’s role in stabilizing moods makes it a crucial one for our emotional well-being. That’s true year round, but in the winter, the main source of vitamin D—the sun—is in far shorter supply, so mood dips might be a symptom of a deficiency. Especially in northern areas, it’s easy to lapse into vitamin D deficiency, so many doctors recommend patients routinely take a supplement to boost their levels. The popularity of supplements is partially due to the fact that this is one vitamin we can’t get in sufficient doses from food alone—although eggs, salmon, milk, and vitamin-fortified breads and cereals contain the nutrient. Talk to your doctor about whether a supplement—or a change in your regular dose—might be good choice for you this winter.

7) Know the Difference Between Sad and SAD

Seasonal Affective Disorder, aptly named SAD, is an emotional health condition that’s more serious than “the winter blues.” During the dark winter months, SAD sufferers may experience hallmark symptoms of depression, including weight gain, fatigue, sleep changes, and depressive thoughts. SAD is different from other types of depression because its symptoms resolve with the spring thaw. Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, the first psychiatrist to describe and diagnose SAD, writes in his book, The Gift of Adversity that symptoms of SAD include "depression, plus other features, such as overeating, oversleeping, craving sweets and starches, and weight gain." SAD, he says, is more common the farther north you travel.  Daily exposure to specific types of artificial light, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and antidepressant medications are all known to be effective in treating SAD; talk to your doctor if you are unsure whether your winter blues need more attention.

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