When you feel down in the dark and cold winter months, people typically chalk it up to the “winter blues,” but it’s much more than that. Around five percent of U.S. adults experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—which involves a shift that’s similar to depression with symptoms ranging from feeling sad to a change in appetite and energy levels—for up to 40 percent of the year. (In other words: a long time.)
While you might not be able to change the weather and bring the sun out from underneath the shadows, here are 30 ways you can fight it off for good. And if you’re in the market for a surefire instant mood booster? Know that Saying This One Word Will Boost Your Mood By 25 Percent.
Try Light Therapy
When the sun is nowhere to be found, you have to go with the next best thing: light therapy. The boxes range in price depending on the size (this portable option is $33 on Amazon) and are fairly effortless. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), all you need to do is devote around 20 minutes or more a day to sitting in front of the light, preferably right after you wake up. While filtering out the harmful UV rays, you’ll get a nice mood boost, and in as little as one week of treatment, you could already see symptoms disappear. And for more grade-A ways to boost your mood, here are 70 Genius Tricks to Get Instantly Happy.
Start Looking at Winter Differently
When you’re a kid, winter is your playground: You get to go sledding, build forts and snowmen, and make snow angels until your cheeks are numb. Winter as an adult, on the other hand, isn’t so glamorous: It’s dark, gloomy, and your numbness usually occurs from trying to scrape all the ice off your car windshield.
It might be hard to change your mindset, but do as the citizens of Tromsø, Norway, where the sun doesn’t rise at all for a few months: See the dark and cold as a time to pursue personal growth and cozy up with family and friends. Because of their positive outlook, one survey found Norwegians had surprisingly low rates of wintertime depression. It might be hard to retrain your brain, but it can do your mental health some good. And if you’re just looking to get away and head somewhere warm, check out these 8 Exclusive Trips to Take with Friends.
Cut Down on Alcohol
Your favorite red wine might help keep you warm and get you through holiday get-togethers without going insane, but you might want to set down that glass. Because it’s a depressant, a 2007 study published in the journal Psychiatry Research found excessive usage has actually been linked to SAD, so cutting it out of your diet might do your mental health some good. Use these 7 Genius Tricks For Successfully Navigating Your Dry January for extra help.
Stop Sleeping In
Bears hibernate during the winter, so why can’t we? It’s tempting to sleep the day away when the temperature drops, but it’s not going to benefit your mental health. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s important to not overdo it on sleep: Get what you need, but don’t sleep in. Instead, get up early and start your day with something active and a hearty breakfast, no matter how tempting it is to stay hidden under the blankets. And for more tricks for getting the most out of any 24 hours, check out 29 Best Body Hacks to Maximize Your Day.
Find a Window Seat
Some days you might not even see the sun; you head into the office while it’s still dark out, and leave just as nighttime falls. To get a little sunlight in your life — which the APA says can help improve your symptoms — find a spot to work by a window to give yourself a mood boost. And if that’s not possible where you work, take little breaks to walk around and get as much light as you can throughout the day. Turns out, a little sunshine can help you achieve that weight loss goal. For more, read up on Why Sunshine Is Your Ultimate Weight-Loss Secret Weapon.
Fill Your Home with Plants
Once winter rolls around, everything outside starts to die and all the greenery disappears. You don’t have to wait until spring to see it again, though—bring plenty of plants into your home to liven things up, brighten your mood, and get some healthy airflow going. Seeing them grow will give you a renewed sense of purpose.
Meditate Every Single Day
By now you’ve heard it a million times. The benefits of meditation are only expanding and taking the time to use the mind-body technique can drastically help you cope with seasonal depression, says the Mayo Clinic. If you’re not sure where to start, start slow and use daily guided meditations on an app like Headspace or incorporate them into the end of your workouts, like through movement and meditation teacher Kait Hurley’s affordable, do-anywhere online workouts. Bonus: Daily meditation is one of the 40 Amazing Habits to Adopt After 40.
Schedule Regular Get-Togethers with Friends
When you’re dealing with SAD, it’s much easier to just stay home watching TV than it is going out and seeing friends, but socializing is so important, says the Mayo Clinic. While a little binge-watching sesh never hurt anyone, there are many benefits to getting out and talking with the people you care about face-to-face. Even grabbing coffee or dinner a few times a week will dramatically boost your mood.
Plan a Trip
Why stick around in the cold if you can afford to get away? Make it a tradition to book a fun trip with friends in the dead of winter to some beautiful, tropical place — or at least somewhere with plenty of warmth and sunshine. Getting that physical and mental escape will instantly perk up your mood and help you better deal with the weather once you get back home. Need some great travel #inspo? Check out This Fairytale Town in Holland Where the Streets Are Entirely Made of Water.
Load Up on Asparagus
If you don’t already eat asparagus on a weekly basis, you might want to start adding it to your plate. As a major source of tryptophan — one of the top plant-based sources, in fact — it helps your body create depression-fighting serotonin. Yep, simply from eating some more greens. And for more diet advice, you should also load up on the 30 Best Foods for Maximizing Your Energy Levels.
Invest in a New Alarm Clock
Instead of waking up to an annoying, blaring alarm clock in early-morning darkness, change your routine to help you fight against SAD. A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found using a dawn stimulator — like Philips’ wake-up light that mimics the sun rising — lets you wake up more naturally, acting as an antidepressant (just minus the pills).
Not just any therapy, though — cognitive behavioral therapy, which a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found isn’t just great at fighting SAD off, but also making sure it doesn’t come back. These study participants in particular challenged negative thoughts about winter and avoided behaviors than affected their moods, but the actual techniques will differ from therapist to therapist.
Go for a Walk
Sure, it’s cold out — but the outdoors are still great for your mental health no matter what season it is. Whether it’s in the morning before work or during your lunch break, take some time to take in some daytime light whenever you can. Breathing in the fresh air will do your body some good, says the Mayo Clinic.
Eat Some Chocolate
Who doesn’t get a little happier after eating a bite or two of chocolate? As long as you choose some that’s 70 percent cocoa or higher, you’ll get a healthy dose of endorphins, making you feel an instant rush of happiness. Just don’t go overboard: Think of having a tiny bit as part of your daily SAD treatment, not the entire bar.
Pamper Yourself with a Massage
You should be getting a massage on the regular for stress reasons alone, but someone working out all your kinks can also help with seasonal depression. According to a 2009 review published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, that time spent in pure relaxation-mode can help increase the serotonin and dopamine in your body, giving you an instant mood boost. And for more help elevating your mood, learn The Single Best Way to Reduce Stress.
Do Some Volunteer Work
It doesn’t matter if you’re helping kids do their homework at an after-school program or walking dogs at the shelter. Getting out of the house and doing some good not only gets you some fresh air and sunlight, but it also does some good for others, making you feel great on multiple levels. Plus, who knows — maybe you’ll end up bringing one of those cute pups home with you.
Become an Artist
You don’t have to be on Monet’s level to reap the benefits a little art therapy has on your mental health. According to the Mayo Clinic, the mind-body technique of creating something—be it a painting, a drawing, or even something with Play-Doh—can help alleviate your symptoms.
Try Guided Imagery
If the thought of meditating scares you, you’ll like guided imagery. The practice gives you suggestions to guide your mind toward, helping you use all your senses at once to zone out and relax your body. It might sound silly, but closing your eyes and picturing something as simple as peeling an orange and eating it can help you cope a little better.
Limit Your Carb Intake
When you’re feeling down in the dumps, there’s always one thing that makes everything better: carbs. (In fact, a 1997 study published in the journal Nutrition showed being depressed could be the reason behind for those cravings in the first place.) But not body-fueling carbs like brown rice and whole-wheat pasta — simple carbohydrates that spike your blood sugar levels, like donuts and cookies and bowl after bowl of spaghetti.
They might make you feel happy for a hot second, but in the end, those effects will wear off and leave you feeling worse than before you chowed down. Instead, nourish your body with wholesome foods—not the sugary, processed stuff.
Eat More Tropical Foods
If you can’t escape on a tropical getaway, bring the tropical getaway to you. Add beach-y foods like coconut, pineapple, and mango into your diet so when you’re feeling down from the cold, you can close your eyes and imagine some sandy beaches and perfectly-warm ocean water. Plus, the vitamin-packed goodies will benefit your health at the same time.
Make Winter Your Favorite Season
Yes, December to March is pretty gloomy — but it’s also really great if you take full advantage of it. Winter is the only season you can bundle up in blankets and drink hot chocolate, build gingerbread houses without judgement, and cuddle up by the fire. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Ditch the Shades in Your Home
When you’re suffering from SAD, you need as much light as possible — and that means it’s time to get rid of those dark, thick shades. Upgrade your window treatments to let the maximum amount of natural light into your home and hang out in those bright areas as often as you can.
Limit the Time on Your Phone
To make sure your mental health is fully equipped to fight seasonal depression, you have to make sure you’re getting the proper amount of rest. Unfortunately, if you’re scrolling through your phone the whole night after work, those blue lights can affect your sleep. Instead, turn your devices on airplane mode a couple hours before bedtime so you can properly wind down.
Move Your Body
When you’re feeling down, the last thing you want to do is throw on your workout clothes and get some exercise in. Getting your heart rate up can be super beneficial, though — especially when it becomes a habit. An easy way to do that is to sign up for some sort of exercise program, whether it’s a pack of yoga classes or finding a running group. Scott Bea, PsyD, told the Cleveland Clinic the movement will produce good brain chemistry, combating that feeling of wanting to lay around and do nothing.
Marie Kondo Your Home
Marie Kondo has quickly become the queen of organization with her beloved KonMari, and it might be time to start using it in your own home. Sure, it’s a little early for spring cleaning, but taking the time to declutter and get rid of a bunch of things you don’t need will not only reenergize your space, but yourself, too, making you feel a lot less glum.
Have Sex Regularly
If you feel like sex always boosts your mood and makes you happier, you’re right: A 2015 study published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science looked at data from 25,000 participants and found having sex once a week can give your mood a nice boost, helping get rid of any winter-related sadness you’re feeling.
Become a Book Worm
Instead of spending time on your phone or watching TV, reignite your love of books — you know, those things you used to read before streaming services like Hulu and Netflix came into the picture. A 2008 study published in Social Indicators Research found happy people spend much more time reading than they do sitting in front of the TV, and grabbing a stack of your old favorites will help make you feel a little better.
Take Vitamin D Supplements
When you have decreased serotonin activity, you can easily start feeling down, so it isn’t too surprising that being insufficient could be associated with SAD. And when you have SAD, you might also be producing less vitamin D in the first place.
Taking supplements seems like the obvious option, and even though the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) says there are mixed opinions on whether it’s effective or not, some studies show it could work just as well as light therapy. Eat more vitamin D-rich foods — like fortified nut milks, mushrooms, and oatmeal — and talk to your doc about adding a daily supplement into your diet to beat the blues for good.
Use Essential Oils
Essential oils keep getting more and more popular; there’s basically something for everyone, whether you’re stressed or need some energy. And — you guessed it! — there’s also something for those suffering from SAD. A 2017 review in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found essential oils can serve as an effective therapeutic option for those who have depressive symptoms, and some of the best options are bergamot, lavender, chamomile, and lemon.
Get a Spray Tan
There isn’t anything healthy about laying out in the sun and getting a real tan. A fake one, on the other hand, might perk you up a little bit in gloomy winter weather. Even though you’ll be spending most of your winter months in sweaters and jeans, getting a spray tan — or buying a self-tanner — like this easy-to-use option from St. Tropez — will give you a healthy glow and make you feel a little more vibrant, too. And for more ways to avoid those winter blues, take a look at 25 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues.
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