If you feel blue during the winter months, it’s not your imagination. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that affects up to 6 percent of Americans, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. And up to 20 percent of us have a mild form of SAD that starts when days get shorter and colder.
Luckily, there’s a raft of home remedies that can help. Here’s a fairly comprehensive list that’ll get you through ’til warm weather hits. Read on, and feel your spirits rise. And for more ways to perk up and feel positive, don’t miss these 70 Genius Tricks for Boosting Your Confidence.
Throw a light on your SAD
According to research from UBC Hospital in Vancouver, Canada, light therapy is effective at combating seasonal affective disorder. Use a light box in your home or office—it provides the kind of bright rays that elevate levels of serotonin in your brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, and having more of it can contribute to wellbeing and happiness. Bonus: It’s also one of the 70 Genius Tricks to Get Instantly Happy.
Because of its northerly latitude, Canada’s winter days are shorter than in the vast majority of the U.S. Maybe that’s why they’re so preoccupied with light and it’s effect on mood. A study from McGill University in Montreal has shown that by spending at least 30 minutes a day outdoors—even during the cold winter months—you should be able to offset your seasonal drops in serotonin. (Even on cloudy fall days, the strength of outdoor sunlight is still many times brighter than artificial lights.) And if you really want to unwind outdoors, consider one of the 20 Most Zen Places on Earth.
Sadly, we can’t hibernate until April. What we can do is nap. According to Sara C. Mednick—one of the world’s foremost nap-ologists—that bathes your brain in serotonin, beating back feelings of anxiety and depression and aiding a more positive outlook. Twenty to 30 minutes may be the ideal length for a nap, but even a few minutes here and there can have benefits. Just don’t go longer than half an hour: You may experience post-sleep grogginess that can be difficult to shake off.
There’s the rub
According to a review of studies by the University of Miami School of Medicine, massage appears to increase your brain and body’s levels of serotonin. A separate study from Taiwan found this soothing experience significantly lessened a case of the drabs. And if you’re the one doing the rubbing? Here are the 4 Secrets for Giving a Mind-blowing Massage.
While low serotonin is a recipe for a bummer, there’s evidence that the relationship between mood and serotonin goes two ways. What that means, says study from the University of Montreal, is that by laughing with friends, watching a funny movie, or even faking a smile, you can literally alter your brain chemistry and insulate yourself against the winter blues. And to keep the good times rolling, follow these 25 Ways to be Happier Now!
If you’re in the long, bleak, post-holiday part of winter, you may be sitting among a bunch of gifts from this year—and years gone by—that you’ve accumulated. Or maybe it’s clothing that’s clogging up your life. Take this time to bring some order into your life, and get rid of everything that you are pretty confident you could do without. You’ll feel better about the extra physical and mental space you create.
Get it on
A 2015 study of more than 25,000 U.S. adults found that, for those in couples, more sex correlated with more happiness. That’s great news if you and your partner are in the doldrums due to the cold and dark. Once a week ought to do it, say researchers; survey respondents who did it more frequently weren’t any happier.
Get some hygge in your life
Wintertime is as rotten in Denmark as it is elsewhere. But the Danes are all about their hygge (pronounced “hooga”), a coping strategy that translates roughly to “coziness” in English. So build a fire in the hearth, get into your sweats and lose yourself in an atmospheric book. And if you feel like hygge is so last year, here’s everything you need to know about Ikigai, the “new hygge.”
Work it out
There’s a growing body of evidence—including a paper from Princeton—that suggests physical activity boosts your brain’s serotonin level whatever the time of year, and it elevates levels of the feel-good hormone for hours after your workout.
Beet your SAD
Even though they’re harvested throughout summer and fall, beets are often thought of as winter vegetable because they keep well. And they should be: Beets contain betaine, a nutrient which supports serotonin production in the brain. The vegetable also contains a potent dose of folic acid, which stabilizes emotional and mental health.
Drink chamomile tea
Serotonin production isn’t the only things that shorter, darker days can disrupt. Your circadian rhythm may be thrown off by the decrease of natural light, making it harder to sleep at night and to stay cheerful during the day. Research shows that chamomile tea not only brings on better sleep but improves your cognitive functioning during the day, too.
Plan an escape
Does planning a vacation weeks or months in the future seem like too long to wait to feel happy? Fear not: Research from the Netherlands has shown that people get the most happiness from planning and anticipating their vacations. And to make the most of every day, start checking off these incredible 50 Things You Must Do in Your Lifetime!
Know that this too shall pass
Hey, we all have rough winter patches that, at times, seem like they’ll go on forever. Resolve to make incremental steps in the right direction.
Eat Dark Chocolate
Turns out chocolate’s taste isn’t the only reason it makes you feel so warm and fuzzy. The natural chemicals in cocoa improve blood flow to the brain, causing a boost in mood and concentration and helping you feel more vibrant and energized.
Head toward the light
The suprachiasmatic nucleus is a tiny spot in your brain near your optic nerve that controls your circadian rhythms. When sunlight enters your eyes, it triggers the SCN to turn off the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. But spending a lot of time indoors or working at night can mess up the normal cycle of light and darkness that keeps your circadian rhythm in sync. This is why people suffer from the depression-like symptoms of seasonal affective disorder in winter. You may be able to combat the blues by going for a morning run to ensure that sunlight shines into your eyes, says Michael Terman, Ph.D., a professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University.
Make a Date
Ensure you’re budgeting plenty of time for social interaction with friends and family in the winter months. In a famous study, scientists observed the well-being of 1,600 Harvard undergrads over 30 years. They found that the happiest ten percent of students were the ones who had the strongest social relationships—and that was a more accurate predictor of happiness than GPA, income, SAT scores, gender or race.
You may not love how this stuff makes your pee smell, but asparagus is one of the top plant-based sources of tryptophan, which serves as a basis for the creation of serotonin. Asparagus also contains high levels of folate, a nutrient that may fight depression, seasonal or otherwise. Research shows that up to 50 percent of people with depression have low folate levels.
Rearrange your space
You’re pretty much stuck inside until March or April, so it makes total sense that you would want to make that space as functional and enjoyable as possible right? Think about how you move within your home and optimize it around yourself.
Eat more coconut
Yes, this tropical fruit is sure to evoke feelings of warm, beachy vacations, but coconut is also chock-full of medium-chain triglycerides, fats that keep your brain healthy and fuel better moods. And although coconut is commonly found in high-calorie desserts, you don’t have to (and you shouldn’t) stuff your face with macaroons to get your fix.
According to a 2014 review of 47 studies published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, mindfulness meditation was effective in reducing depression, anxiety and pain. The technique involves being still and concentrating on the present moment, while relaxing areas of tension throughout the body. The study’s author said that as little as two-and-a-half hours of the practice per week was enough to see significant results. The best part: You can do it when you’re snowed in, and it won’t cost you a cent—a depression-lifter in itself.
Get some D
As reported in a 2014 issue of the journal Medical Hypotheses, research has linked low levels of vitamin D were to seasonal affective disorder. What’s more, a 2014 study published the journal Nutrients found that people who took vitamin D supplements saw significant improvement in their depression.
Talk your way out of it
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a kind of talk therapy in which distorted, negative thinking is logged, identified, and “defeated,” helping those dark and depressed moods to lift and vanish over time. Computerized cognitive behavioral therapy (a new version of CBT) is powered by computers and artificial intelligence; patients answer a list of questions to help rewire their depressive thinking, seasonal or otherwise. It’s not magic, but it no doubt has therapists wondering anew, Who’s in charge now?
Get your read on
Inclement weather and long evenings make perfect conditions for tackling all the books you’ve been meaning to read. Start by picking up some of the classics that have stood the test of time. A 2009 University of Maryland study showed that reading (among other things) is something that happy people tend to have in common. Happy people also watch less TV, so books are a better entertainment option if you’re feeling sad in winter.
Get to bed earlier
One common symptom of depression is early-morning waking, which compounds the problem, because poor sleep can make depression even worse. Wrestle back control of your rest by making key lifestyle changes: Try going to bed a half-hour earlier, get regular exercise, and avoid caffeine, TV, computer and smartphone use in the evening until your sleep improves and depressive symptoms lift. Having trouble? These 10 Ways to Sleep Better Tonight will help you get the best shuteye of your life.
Talk with your doctor
Because SAD is a form of depression, it’s best diagnosed by talking with your doctor. “There are a number of screening questions that can help determine if someone is depressed,” Dr. Deborah Pierce, M.D., MPH, clinical associate professor of family medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in New York. “Your doctor will be able to sort out whether you have SAD as opposed to some other form of depression.”