50 Expert Tips to Help You Beat the Winter Blues
Get ready to banish the winter blues with this expert-backed advice!
Half a million people in the United States suffer from winter depression, with an additional 10 to 20 percent of Americans dealing with a more mild form of the winter blues every year, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And while there's no substitute for seeking the help of a mental health professional if you're struggling, you can also boost your mood outside of your sessions with small, daily actions that are proven to make a difference when it comes to your happiness. So, before resigning yourself to feeling less than great all winter long, discover some easy, expert-backed ways to beat the winter blues this year.
Leave yourself notes.
A quick reminder of something motivating can be an instant pick-me-up, so create those reminders for yourself! "Place index cards with pictures of your favorite things or positive coping statements by your coffee maker or in your car visor where you can see them all the time," says Dawn Raffa, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist.
Single out one thing to look forward to each day.
Having one bright spot to focus on during the dark days of winter can make all the difference. "Whether it is a walk in the park, a bubble bath, meeting a friend for lunch, or a steamy hot chocolate, have one thing every day to look forward to," Raffa suggests.
Listen to a funny podcast or stand-up bit on your way to work.
If you want to ensure you start your day smiling, seek out the thing that makes you laugh and subscribe! "Listen to your favorite comedian either when you are getting ready or on your way to work in the morning," Raffa recommends.
Move your workstation next to a window.
If you aren't near a window at work, try to relocate your desk. In a 2016 study published in the journal PLOS One, researchers found that exposure to sunlight in the workplace both decreased depression levels and made workers more passionate about their jobs.
And clean up your desk.
If the winter blues are killing your vibe, take a few minutes to clean up your workspace. Clutter makes you feel stressed, so taking 30 minutes or so to reorganize your desk can both improve your mood and boost your productivity.
Go on an tiny adventure.
Sometimes changing your surroundings is all you need to lift your spirits. "Take an 'adventuring' trip at least 30 minutes away from your home to find a new coffee shop," suggests self-help author Natalie Wise. "Be determined to find a new coffee shop [and] don't return home until you find one. Bring a book or journal to further inspire you to stay and sit a while."
Make a list of your "must-dos."
Allow yourself to succeed by setting attainable goals for the day. "Make a list of the day's 'non-negotiables,'" Wise recommends. "These are the things you cannot end the day without doing. Make sure you do them." Keep the list handy so you can cross items off as you go, which is another great way to keep the winter blues at bay.
Do something you've put on the back-burner.
"Things that you accomplish for yourself will boost your self-confidence and self-worth," explains Helena Plater-Zyberk, co-founder of peer support network Supportiv. "Do something that you haven't tackled in ages: create new playlists, organize all the things your mom has ever sent you, or even just replace the batteries in your remote."
Reach out to someone else who you think might be feeling down.
"Maybe it's an elderly neighbor who is having trouble shoveling snow or a small business clerk who's seeing less foot traffic now that it's cold out. Befriend them," Plater-Zyberk recommends. "This gives you purpose, something fulfilling that fills any void you feel in your own life."
Snap a selfie.
As silly as it might sound, a 2016 study published in the journal Psychology of Well-Being suggests that taking an upbeat photo of yourself might be enough to help you feel a bit happier. Sharing the snapshot with friends or loved ones only intensifies the effect!
Repaint your walls.
"Color impacts us more than we know," says Nora Bouz, a well-being interior design expert. "Scientific research shows that certain colors can increase our energy and support focus, productivity, and even creativity." Specifically, green and yellow are great for adding a little more happy into your glum winter days, while blue can create a sense of calm, according to Health magazine.
Bouz adds that "colors can also annoy us and even make us feel bored." Her advice? "Avoiding dominantly white spaces in winter can help us feel more supported and less isolated."
Buy yourself a bright sweater.
If you don't want to repaint your walls, invest in colorful statement pieces instead. "Another way to bring more color into your life is to wear strong and vibrant colors," Bouz says. Most winter clothes are dark or neutral, so make an effort to switch it up and try some brighter hues when you feel down.
Bring a bit of nature into your home.
"Whether it's plants, natural wood, stone, a water feature, or the sound of nature, integrating natural elements indoors will rejuvenate and refresh you, simply because we are biologically encoded to associate with natural features," Bouz says. "Connections to nature are instrumental to our well-being."
Work out in the morning.
It's no secret that a little working out does the body and the mind a lot of good. So why not start your day with an endorphin high? Even just 30 minutes of movement a day can seriously help you beat the winter blues, according to a 1999 paper published in the journal Public Health Nutrition.
Take a hot yoga class.
Sometimes you just need a little warmth to get you out of a cold weather slump. "Getting hot and sweaty in the wintertime just feels good," says Patrea Aeschliman, founder of pilates studio 15 to Fit. And hot yoga is the perfect exercise: Not only does it give you a rush of endorphins, but its meditative properties also calm your mind.
Eat some eggs, cheese, and turkey.
A 2016 paper published in the journal Nutrients points out that the amino acid tryptophan can increase your levels of serotonin, which is often called the "happy chemical." Foods high in tryptophan include eggs, cheese, turkey, salmon, and tofu, so double up on those this winter.
Use your slow cooker to make your life easier.
"There's nothing better than returning to a home full of the smells of delicious cooking and your dinner already prepared," points out Julie Driver, a Pilates educator. To take advantage of this winter mood booster, stick all your ingredients into your slow cooker before you leave for the day, and you're set!
Try a new recipe.
If there's a recipe you've been wanting to try or a dish you've been meaning to learn how to cook, set aside some time to do it this season. "The very act of creating something that wasn't there before gives us a sense of thrill, accomplishment, and newness," says Ana Jovanovic, psychotherapist and life coach at Parenting Pod.
Order some fries.
The foods you find delicious—like french fries—cause your brain to release endorphins, which can bump up your mood. In fact, "any food that makes you salivate will likely give you an endorphin boost," Slidell Memorial Hospital notes. So yes, this winter, you do want fries with that!
Start your morning with a power song.
Listen to a song that you associate with fun times, laughter, and energy first thing in the morning, and you're likely to have a good day, even if the weather outside is frightful. "The first song you hear in the morning usually gets stuck in your head for the rest of the day," explains Jovanovic. "You can create a whole playlist of power songs that you can sing and dance to."
Or hum a tune you love.
Yes, listening to music can help you beat the winter blues, but taking part in making music is actually even better, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology. Whether you sing along to a song, hum a tune, or tap out a rhythm on your steering wheel, performing music in any capacity can lead to more positive vibes.
Or listen to your favorite sad song.
And it's not just happy music that can help you get through the winter blues. Listening to a sad song you love can help you feel calmer, per one 2014 study published in the journal PLOS One. A song that makes you cry can even be therapeutic!
Look in the mirror and give yourself a compliment.
It might sound strange, but try it. Finding one thing you really love about yourself—physical or otherwise—is the perfect way to help you see the bright side.
Or give someone else a compliment.
Being kind to others can actually make you feel better about yourself, as a 2016 study published in the journal Emotion proves. A genuine "I love your coat!" or "Your haircut looks fantastic!" can go a long way.
Grab a clementine.
Go ahead and grab a clementine the next time you're feeling sad. One 2005 study published in Chemical Senses found that when people took a whiff of the citrusy fruit, they felt more stimulated and happy.
Text a friend you haven't spoken to in a while.
Your life is busy; we get it. And in the winter, it can be especially hard to get motivated to leave your cozy home to hang out with friends or family. But your level of social connection is a major predictor of happiness, so it pays to keep your community links strong. Reach out to someone you're looking to reconnect with and you'll be surprised how good you feel as a result.
Recall a happy memory.
Yep, sometimes the brain really is that simple. Research from 2017 published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour notes that "recalling happy memories elicits positive feelings and enhances one's well-being"; it limits the release of the stress hormone cortisol. So, the next time you feel like frowning, just think about the last time you smiled—and voilà!
Watch a movie you can relate to.
"Find songs, movies, plays, art, and other media about overcoming hardships," suggests Aerin Ogden, an outreach expert with Utah Addiction Centers. "There are countless forms of media that can uplift you by showing you people can overcome hard things."
Bake cookies and give them away.
Helping others is one of the best ways to help yourself. "Doing something nice for someone else lets you think outside of yourself and brings you joy and fulfillment," explains Aerin Ogden, an outreach expert with Utah Addiction Centers. "Make a treat and look for ways to serve someone around you." (Of course, feel free to eat the leftovers. Those endorphins will start kicking in!)
Get a give-back calendar.
And if you need a reminder to lend a helping hand, "there are calendars with ideas for a do-good activity each day of the month," notes nurse practitioner Ellen Wermter, FNP-BC. "Consider downloading one and making the cold winter months more joyful through giving."
Set a challenge for yourself.
Nothing feels as good as accomplishing something, so try to set some goals for yourself this season. "Make the goal specific and achievable—for example, completing a 10-minute HIIT workout first thing in the morning for every day of the month," Wermter advises. "Keep track of your progress and aim for consistency. Plan a small celebration for when you meet that goal." And consider asking friends to join you. "Inviting others to participate in the challenge too will bolster human connection," says Wermter.
Pick up a small gift for someone else.
We're not saying you have to buy your spouse a new car, but grabbing their favorite dessert on your way home could score you some extra happiness points. In a 2011 Harvard University study, subjects who spent money on others reported feeling happier about it than those who spent money on themselves.
Book a vacation.
Go ahead and book a getaway this winter. Not only will it give you something to look forward to, but 2014 research published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology shows that spending money on experiences makes us happier than spending on material things.
Hang out with a dog.
Dogs aren't just man's best friend—they're also natural mood boosters. If you have your own pet, give them a cuddle or take them for a walk; and if you don't, offer to petsit for a friend or family member who does. It's a win-win!
Or watch some videos of cute animals.
And if you can't petsit or play with your own furry friend, the next best way to beat the winter blues is with cute animal videos. As if you needed another reason to watch funny cat videos, one 2015 study from Indiana University found that people who do so are happier and more energized.
Drink a latté.
Try a phone-free day or weekend.
Cell phones are a major part of modern life. But that doesn't mean having one on you at all times is a great idea. As a 2014 study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior shows, more frequent cell phone use is associated with higher levels of anxiety and lower levels of happiness.
So, the next time you have a day off or a weekend with minimal plans, try shutting down your phone, leaving it at home, and going out to do something you enjoy—minus the technological distractions.
Solve some math problems.
When the weather has you down in the dumps, it might be worth it to solve a few math problems. Hear us out: When two behavioral scientists had subjects solve math equations for 10 minutes, they found that it lifted their spirits. And the harder the equations were, the better the subjects felt. But why? Well, in their 1992 paper published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the researchers explained that the difficult task of solving math problems "can neutralize previously induced negative … moods." Basically, when you're focused on something complex, you hardly have time to feel down.
Go on a "happy" walk.
Yes, it sounds silly, but do your best to imagine what a "happy" walk would look like. Then, try it. One 2015 study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry found it made depressed participants feel happier
Go out of your way to say thank you.
You probably already thank the person who makes your coffee and strangers who hold the door for you. But what about the co-worker who always covers for you when you're sick? Or the friend who always shows up when you need them? Take a few minutes to let someone know how much their actions mean to you and you'll be feeling more joyful in no time. It's just one of the many benefits of gratitude.
Hang out with someone happy.
A good mood can rub off on you, so call up your friend who is always in good spirits and get a quick coffee or a bite to eat with them. You'll directly benefit from their company.
Speak up when something is bothering you.
Instead of letting things that bum you out slide, make an effort to speak up for yourself next time something happens at home, work, or elsewhere. Talking to the person who can help fix an issue can make room for happiness that lasts, especially in relationships.
Take a few deep breaths.
Tapping into your parasympathetic nervous system, or your body's "rest and digest" state, can help you feel more content and at peace with the world around you.
Go to a religious service.
If you are a religious person or want to explore your faith or spirituality, consider attending services some time soon. No matter what you believe or observe, spirituality is associated with better well-being and higher levels of happiness, as one 2013 study published in the journal Emotion shows.
Call your mom.
Trust us, there's science to this one! One 2010 study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that hearing your mother's voice can reduce stress and give you a mood boost. Plus, you know how happy it'll make your mom, too.
Make sure you're getting enough sleep.
Don't underestimate the power of sleep. People who don't get enough sleep are irritable, angry, and easily stressed out, so make sure you're taking advantage of the increased nighttime hours during winter and snoozing for a full eight every night.
Light a candle.
Scent can impact your mental state, so find a candle you love—maybe something sweet that you associate with good memories, like vanilla, or something therapeutic, like lavender—and take a few deep, relaxing breaths.
Sit up straight.
Picking yourself up literally can help you do so figuratively, too. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry shows that poor posture is linked to poor mood.
According to 2012 research from the University of Hertfordshire, most people wear jeans when they're depressed. But if we wear clothes we associate with happy moods, we just might start feeling happier. So swap your jeans for something you'd wear on a special occasion and reap the benefits to your mental health.
Put on your best fake smile.
It's hard to fake a smile when you're feeling down. However, even less-than-genuine grins have been shown to ultimately make people less stressed, according to a 2012 study from the University of Kansas published in the journal Psychological Science. Sometimes you just have to fake it 'til you make it in order to beat the winter blues!