15 Strategies to Help You Beat the Winter Blues
When I was little, I didn’t really mind the winter weather. I had spent the first 10 years of my life in a city on the other side of the world that was infuriatingly for most of the year so the rainy, chill weathers of the Pacific west coast was a welcomed relief. It wasn’t until my early 20’s when I started to feel the dip in my mood whenever winter came around.
I’d have problems getting out of bed in the winter. I would be constantly fatigued and become disinterested in things. I’d feel like there was a heaviness hanging over me, slowing me down both in my body and my mind.
Sometimes I’d sit there and feel like crying for no reason.
But the minute the sun came out, as it sometimes does for a short while in the midst of winter, I’d jump back on my feet and feel alive again. It didn’t take a psychologist to tell me what I was experiencing—it was the winter blues.
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- 1. Why We Get the Winter Blues
- 2. How to Beat the Winter Blues
- 2.1 Take Vitamin D
- 2.2 Go for a Walk During the Day
- 2.3 Exercise Regularly
- 2.4 Eat Lots of Fruits and Vegetables
- 2.5 Pay Attention to Your Lighting
- 2.6 Grow Indoor Plants
- 2.7 Try Something New
- 2.8 Volunteer
- 2.9 Plan Something You Can Look Forward To
- 2.10 Learn a New Skill or Practice an Old One
- 2.11 Dress in More Colours
- 2.12 Read an Inspiring Book or Watch an Inspiring Film
- 2.13 Sing!
- 2.14 Cook With Friends
- 2.15 Download a Positivity App
Why We Get the Winter Blues
There’s a more official name for the winter blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is a condition that affects our mood when the weather changes, which means it typically strikes people during the fall and winter months.
Experts believe the condition may be caused by the reduced level of sunlight during this time of year. The decrease in sunlight may disrupt our body’s internal clock, cause a drop in our serotonin levels, and knock the balance of our body’s melatonin levels out of whack. Long story short, a decrease in sunlight affects us more than just the colour of our tan!
How to Beat the Winter Blues
Light therapy is a well-known method of combating SAD. But a light therapy comes with a list of possible side effects including eyestrain and nausea, not to mention a good light therapy lamp could cost a lot of money. So are there any simple and safe methods out there that can help us alleviate the winter blues without breaking the bank? Of course!
In this article, I’m sharing 15 simple strategies on how to beat the winter blues. They’re tips that have helped me greatly and I’m hoping they will help you too. So let’s get started!
1. Take Vitamin D
Did you know that patients with depression commonly have lower levels of vitamin D?
It appears that vitamin D plays a part in the synthesis of both dopamine and serotonin, and low levels of these brain neurotransmitters have been found to be associated with depression.
The good news is research shows that improvements in vitamin D levels can improve depression scale scores and may be an effective treatment for SAD.
I highly recommend taking a vitamin D supplement (of course, you should always consult with your physician first) because of its many benefits including its ability to improve our mood.
I usually don’t take vitamin D in the summer months when my body can generate plenty of this vitamin from the sun but I make sure I take 2000 I.U. of vitamin D a day from fall to late spring.
I can’t promise that vitamin D is the miracle drug that will cure your winter blues, but in my experience ever since I started taking vitamin D, I’ve gotten fewer colds in the winter and I don’t feel as lethargic as I did during the previous winters. And when your body feels good, it’s easier for your mind to feel good.
2. Go for a Walk During the Day
Even if it looks yucky outside, try to go out for a walk for at least 10 minutes a day between 10 am in the morning to 3 pm in the afternoon when the light is the brightest.
It often looks darker inside a building than it is outside and any bit of light helps. Not to mention the fresh air will do you good!
I’m finding it hard to do a daily walk during the day on those days when I’m working but on weekends I always make sure I get outside for a little walk during the day, even if the weather is not cooperating. I always feel more energized after a walk and ready to face the rest of the day.
3. Exercise Regularly
Exercising regularly is a proven way to stave off the winter blues!
I didn’t have the habit of exercising regularly until I was diagnosed with Leukemia at age 19.
Exercise became a part of my daily routine during my recovery period and it played a major role in improving my physical and mental health. I still maintain a regular exercise routine that involves playing dodgeball one evening a week, going to the gym 3 to 4 times a week, and taking walks outside whenever I can.
Exercise always gives me a boost of energy and makes me feel “pumped” right after.
And now I know why.
Exercise is an effective treatment to combat depression. When we exercise, our body releases chemicals called endorphins that gives us that “runner’s high” and makes us feel good.
According to Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, exercise supports nerve cell growth in a particular region of our brain that helps regulate mood, and this, in turn, helps alleviate depression.
So start incorporating exercise into your daily routine. Your mind will thank you!
4. Eat Lots of Fruits and Vegetables
Did you know that the antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables are associated with optimism? Yes, eating 5 or more servings of fruits and veggies daily has been linked to a higher level of mental well-being.
Ever since I increased my intake of fruits and vegetable through the help of home-made smoothies, I’ve noticed a variety of improvements in both my body and mind including less sugar cravings and more mental clarity.
It has even helped ease my eczema. Just these three benefits alone were enough to knock off some stress for me and help improve my mood!
Aim for a variety of different fruits and vegetables, and at least 5 servings a day.
My smoothies almost always have at least 5 different kinds of fruits such as berries, banana, avocado, pear, peach, mango, or pineapple. I also like to add a bit of kefir, almond milk, and hemp seed powder for a kick of protein. Give it a try!
5. Pay Attention to Your Lighting
Have you ever been to a classroom or office where the dim overhead light just zaps every last bit of willpower in you to keep your head up and your eyes open? Unfortunately, many of us have to work or study in environments like that. And it’s making us sick.
Yep, lighting can make a big impact on our productivity, mood, and overall well-being.
It’s no wonder more and more employers these days are redesigning their office environment and lighting to promote employee engagement and better mental health.
Natural light is obviously the best but if an office with a window is out of the question, then try blue or cooler-toned light bulbs.
In a study conducted by researchers at the University of Greenwich, they found that “blue-enriched light bulbs” made workers report feeling “happier, more alert and had less eye strain.”
6. Grow Indoor Plants
Winter got you feeling down? Here's15 simple ways to beat the winter blues.
Plants not only make your indoor space more lively and attractive, they’re also known to be effective in reducing stress, improving our ability to focus, and making us feel happy. Don’t forget they also help freshen the air!
I get a great deal of joy just by looking at the plants I have in various places of our new home. It gives me a sense of hope and accomplishment to see these plants grow healthy and strong (well, most of them anyways). Being surrounded by greenery also makes me “forget” that we’re already in November!
If you’re looking for ideas on what kind of indoor plants are the best for beating the winter blues, check out this list from The Spruce.
Now Some Fun Ways to Beat the Winter Blues
7. Try Something New
A huge part of why I love the summer months is because there’s always something going on. And almost always outdoors.
A barbeque at a friend’s house, a hiking day trip, or an outdoor music festival are just a few of the many activities that fill up the summer months with good food, good memories, and good times with good people.
When the fall and winter months hit, it feels like everything just stops. We all scurry inside and hide until next spring.
Is it any wonder that we feel sad, bored, and tired all the time?
The best way to overcome that listless and bored feeling in the winter months is to find something new to try.
When we try new things, we create opportunities for good experiences to take place, and these good experiences, in turn, generate positive feelings and memories.
So, if you’ve never been to a musical performance before, why not go to one? Or perhaps try a new type of cuisine that you’ve never tried before? It can even be as simple as trying a new flavour of coffee or tea at your local cafe.
There’s nothing more fulfilling than the feeling that we’re contributing to a great cause. Volunteering at a local charity or community organization is an excellent way to give back to society and give ourselves a positivity boost at the same time.
Even if you don’t have the time to commit to a regular volunteering schedule, there are many local charitable events looking for volunteers for a day, an afternoon, or even just an hour or two.
Another great way to volunteer your time is to become a mentor to someone else.
The person you choose to mentor can be someone younger who could benefit from the advice of an older friend, someone who’s just starting out in the same field of study or work as you who could use some tips you learned along the way, or someone who’s new to your school, company, or neighbourhood who’s in need of a warm smile and a helping hand.
9. Plan Something You Can Look Forward To
People enjoy the process of looking forward to something.
Just think of the last time you daydreamed about a romantic date that you’d been planning for weeks, or a night out with friends you haven’t seen in a while.
I read in Psychologist Dan Gilbert’s book, “Stumbling on Happiness” that there’s even a study that showed that most people would choose to delay a positive experience—such as a free upscale dinner that they were told they had won—for a week just so that they get to look forward to it!
To combat the winter blues, plan something that you can look forward to and plan it weeks or even months ahead.
Perhaps a vacation to somewhere you’ve never been before, a dinner party with all your closest family and friends, or a concert of a musician that you like.
Whatever it is, it will help keep your spirits up by giving you something to savour in your imagination as you look forward to it.
Research shows anticipating a positive experience in the future increases enjoyment and life satisfaction.
10. Learn a New Skill or Practice an Old One
The wintertime is the perfect time to learn a new skill or brush up on an old one.
I find that there are so many things happening in the summertime that I don’t have the time (or the willpower) to really focus on practicing a skill. But in the winter, with the outdoor activities winding down, it becomes easier for me to devote more time to learning a new language or practicing a familiar instrument.
And whenever I learn something new or practice something I’ve learned before, I feel more confident, more accomplished, and more satisfied. It’s a feeling that I can’t possibly get from a weekend of binge-watching Netflix.
And I’m not the only one who gets joy out of learning.
So if you want to prevent the blues this winter, find something that you’re interested in learning or dust off that old piano or guitar that’s been idling for a while. You’ll have so much fun learning and feel good at the same time!
11. Dress in More Colours
Mother nature doesn’t dress in a lot of colours in the winter, does she?
She dresses in vibrant shades of greens, yellows and reds like a young teenage girl at a dance from spring to fall, but in the winter time? It seems like everyday mother nature pulls a grey sweatshirt over her head and call it a day.
Colours have the power to convey emotions and affect our mood. Warm tones such as reds and oranges are exiciting and energizing while cool colours such as blues and light greens have a calming effect. And grey–mother nature’s favourite colour in winter—is depressing.
But just because mother nature dresses in greys in the winter doesn’t mean we have to. In fact, we should dress in more colours in the winter—colours that are known to have an uplifting effect on our mood.
The next time you feel blue, try wearing something bright and colourful.
If you want to dress head to toe in colours, by all means go for it! But if you’re a little colour-shy like me, try just a colourful pair of shoes, a bag, or a scarf. Even just a small pop of colour will do wonders for your mood!
12. Read an Inspiring Book or Watch an Inspiring Film
We all love a good story where the main character defies all odds and achieves something great. There’s something about these stories that make us smile from inside out.
I know for myself, whenever I read a book or watch a film about someone who has overcome unimaginable obstacles, it gives me hope and almost magically, my life doesn’t look so bad anymore.
We all need a good story like that every now and then, especially in the wintertime when we need an extra shot of optimism.
Reading a book or watching a film about the true story of another person overcoming tremendous challenges is an effective (and cheap) way to get a big dose of positivity.
I recently read a book called “438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea” written by Jonathan Franklin and I highly recommend this book. It details the true story of a Mexican fisherman who drifted out to sea in his fishing boat during an incredible storm and survived for 438 days out in the open ocean.
Here’s a list of other inspiring books I recommend.
As for inspiring films, one of my all-time favourites is “The Pursuit of Happyness” starring Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith, but if you’ve already seen that one, you can find a whole list of films based on inspiring true stories here.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am a TERRIBLE singer, but that hasn’t stopped me from singing my heart out in the shower or humming along to my favourite tunes on the radio when I’m driving.
Singing is the one thing that I can count on to bring a smile to my face no matter how bad the day went. Whenever I sing, I feel like I’m up in the air and bursting with joy. And there’s science behind why singing makes me feel this way.
Doctors believe that singing is good for our mental health.
When we sing, we release endorphins, which are chemicals produced in the brain that help block pain, relieve stress, and give us a sense of euphoria.
This explains why I can still feel like a rock star even though I’m way off-key half of the time and my voice cracks as soon as I hit a high note!
What I’m trying to tell you is we don’t need to have a voice like Adele’s or the gift of musicality in order to reap the benefits of singing. We can and should regularly engage in this activity that has been shown to make us happy.
If you feel the winter blues coming on, just put on your favourite song and sing along!
Here's another good excuse to sing (not that you need any): It's a fantastic way to boost your mood!
14. Cook With Friends
Have you heard of something called “culinary therapy”?
It is the practice of using cooking as therapy in the treatment of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and it’s been gaining momentum in recent years.
I’ve always felt that cooking is a soothing experience for me personally, but I didn’t know that it has been recognized as an effective method to improve mental health. Incredible!
I can see why cooking is good for our mind and soul.
It’s a feast for all of our senses.
When we cook, we not only get to experience all these pleasant sensations with our sensory organs, we get a tangible finished product at the end that we can put in a bowl or plate and feel that we’ve accomplished something.
And you know what would make cooking an even better experience? Cooking with friends!
Social connectivity is important to our mental well-being in general but it becomes even more essential during the winter time because that’s when we tend to feel more isolated.
Cooking together is a fun and meaningful way to hang out with people that matter to us. By engaging in this one activity we not only feed our body, we feed our soul in the process as well.
What’s not to love?
15. Download a Positivity App
There are many mobile apps out there that promise to deliver regular doses of positivity and help improve our mood. They are easy to use, most of them have awesome graphics, and the best part is that they are free!
One of my favourite positivity apps is “InnerHour”.
InnerHour is an app that allows you to assess how you’re doing in areas such as worry management, stress control, and mood management. It then develops a customized plan to help you in improve in each area with short daily tasks such as guided imagery and deep breathing exercises. The app also provides evidence-based articles to help you get a better understanding of your area of concern.
Apps like InnerHour can help us become more self-aware, guide us in applying techniques that promote mindfulness and stress reduction, and in turn, improve our mental health. Go ahead and give it a try!
So that’s all of the 15 simple tips on how to beat the winter blues. Try them (one, two, or all!) this winter season and let me know if any of these worked for you! Or leave me a comment letting me know what you do to beat the winter blues. I’d love to add your ideas to this list!