Winter is on it´s way; the leaves are falling from the trees and the nights are getting shorter, but that’s no reason to be downhearted. It might be the season of sniffles, blankets and wet socks, but it’s also a time full of soup, scarves, hot chocolat, christmas lights and fireworks!
If you’re struggling with the thought of the year drawing to a close, we have a great selection of tips and hacks to help bring a warming ray of sunshine to the chilly days ahead.
In the middle of the winter with low temperatures, grey skies and short days, many people find themselves feeling sad. If you’re feeling like nothing but a very full, very strong pot of coffee will get you out of bed, join the club.
The “winter blues” are characterized by the mild depression, lack of motivation, and low energy that many people experience during this cold season. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to both prevent the blues from coming on and get yourself back to normal if they’re already here. Here, scientifically proven ways to lift your spirits and ease the mid-winter doldrums.
1. Get Some Sun
Most people know that sunlight provides us with Vitamin D. But did you know that it also improves your mood? Winter days are shorter and darker than other months, and because of the cold weather, a lot of people spend less and less time outdoors. Lack of sunlight can cause many people to become depressed—without knowing why! Sunlight exposure releases neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood.
Go outdoors in natural daylight as much as possible, especially at midday and on brighter days. Expose yourself to sunlight as early in the morning as you can. You want to maximize the number of hours you experience daylight. Wake up early, and lift the curtains or go outside as soon as you get out of bed. Talking yourself into taking a walk when the temperatures plummet isn’t easy, but the benefits are big. Spending time outside (even when it’s chilly!) can improve focus, reduce symptoms of winter depression and lower stress levels.
Keep your shades up during the day to let more light in. Sit near windows in restaurants and during class. Try changing the light bulbs in your house to “full spectrum” bulbs. These mimic natural light and actually have the same affects on your mind as the real thing.
2. Keep Warm & Cozy up your home
Being cold makes you more depressed. It’s also been shown that staying warm can reduce the winter blues by half. Keep warm with hot drinks and hot food. Wear warm clothes and shoes, and aim to keep your home between 19C and 21C.
Paint your walls with warm, vibrant colors. Change a sterile, white kitchen into a sunny, yellow retreat or transform a dull, beige living room into an inviting, happy place. Put some colorful artwork on your walls and toss around some pillows. A few little touches can really help you cope with the winter blahs.
3. Eat smarter
Certain foods, like chocolate, can help to enhance your mood and relieve anxiety. Other foods, like candy and carbohydrates provide temporary feelings of euphoria, but could ultimately increase feelings of anxiety and depression.
A healthy diet will boost your mood, give you more energy and stop you putting on weight over winter. Avoid refined and processed foods (like white breads, rice, and sugar). These foods are not only devoid of the nutrients your body craves, but they zap your energy levels and can affect your mood in a negative way. Try to incorporate more complex carbohydrates (whole wheat breads, brown rice, veggies, fruit) and get your daily 8 cups of water. These healthy foods provide your body (and mind) with nutrients, and stabilize your blood sugar and your energy levels. You could also try a daily vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D is created by the sun’s rays on the skin, and therefore declines during the winter.
4. See the light
Some people find light therapy effective for seasonal depression. One way to get light therapy at home in winter is to sit in front of a light box for up to two hours a day. Light boxes give out very bright light at least 10 times stronger than ordinary home and office lighting. They work by reducing the release of melatonin in the brain. For best results, use a light box daily, in the early morning, and for 30 minutes to two hours at a time. Many people see improvement in about 2 weeks.
Another symptom of winter blues is increased difficulty getting up in the morning, even if you’ve had plenty of sleep. Some people find that using a dawn simulator, a bedside light connected to an alarm clock, that mimics a sunrise and wakes you up gradually, can be helpful. A dawn simulator can serve as an antidepressant and make it easier to get out of bed. You can also plug a bright, fluorescent lamp into a timer and having it turn on before your alarm goes off.
As if we needed another reason to get fit! Exercise is great for relieving the stresses of life. You’ll have more energy throughout the day and it helps your mind by releasing those “feel good chemicals” that improve your mood.
But exercise outdoors is even better! Did you know that one hour of aerobic exercise outside (even when it’s cloudy) has the same therapeutic effects as 2.5 hours of light treatment indoors? This is because it raises serotonin levels, which tend to get low when you have the winter blues. Research has shown that a daily one-hour walk in the middle of the day could be as helpful as light treatment for coping with the winter blues.
6. Catch some Zzzz’s
People naturally want to sleep a little bit more during the winter. But with all we have going on, sometimes sleep is the first thing to go. With a little time management, and some self-discipline, you can meet your shut-eye needs. Aim for 7-8 hours each night, and try to keep your bedtime and waking time consistent. That way, your sleeping patterns can normalize and you’ll have more energy. Try not to oversleep—those 12-hour snoozes on the weekend can actually make you MORE tired. Don’t forget naps! A short (10-30 minute) afternoon nap may be all you need to re-energize midday.
7. Treat yourself and/or Plan a vacation
Having something to look forward to can keep anyone motivated. Winter seems endless! But if you plan something exciting, your mood improves when you’re anticipating it and when the event actually comes. Plan something that’s exciting to you; a weekend trip, a day at the spa, a party, a girls (or guys) night out or a sporting event.
Longing for sunnier days at the beach? Plan a holiday to the sun! The simple act of planning a vacation already causes a significant increase in overall happiness…
8. Embrace the Season
It’s time to stop saying you hate winter. Continually thinking about how much you don’t like winter only makes it more likely you’ll feel sad as the season progresses. Instead of always avoiding the cold and the snow, look for the best that it has to offer! Take up a winter sport like ice skating, snowboarding, hockey, or even sledding. Enjoy these opportunities while they last, after all, they’re only here a few months per year.
Also try to cultivate some cosiness. Light some vanilla smelling candles, put on pleasant music, light the fire. Now, invite a few friends over for hot cocoa and pumpkin soup and play a board game or some cards.
Seeing winter in a positive light, with all the fun and cosy activities that it has to offer, will keep your spirits high and the cold months will fly by.
9. See your friends and family
It’s been shown that socialising is good for your mental health and helps ward off the winter blues. Make an effort to keep in touch with people you care about and accept any invitations you get to social events, even if you only go for a little while. Once you’re socializing you may find that you’ve suddenly gotten in the mood to be with other people.
Don’t underestimate the power of friends, family, mentors, co-workers, and neighbours. Who can you turn to when you’re down and need a pick-me-up? Keep a mental list of these special people and don’t be afraid to ask for help or encouragement when you need it. Something as simple as a phone call, a chat over coffee, or a nice email or letter can brighten your mood.
10. Turn on the tunes
Researchers showed that listening to upbeat or cheery music significantly improved participant’s mood in both the short and long term. So turn on the tunes and dance the blues away!