6 Tips for Staving Off the Winter Blues

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Suffering winter doldrums is not inevitable. Here are six tips for cultivating healthy habits that can help make the season truly bright.

For many in the northern hemisphere, the short, often overcast and gray-colored days of winter can really invite “the blues.” Even those who don’t suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — a type of mild to moderate depression some folks experience in the relative absence of daylight — as I do can find themselves feeling somewhat lethargic, unmotivated, and more irritable than usual during the winter months. But fortunately there are some things we all can do to keep the “winter blues” at bay.

Eat healthy.
We tend to immerse ourselves in more primal forms of gratification when we’re not feeling all that happy. And while food indulgences can serve as a sort of temporary pick-me-up, the effects don’t last very long and the consequences can invite even greater feelings of despondency. In winter, we not only tend to eat more (some say this tendency is instinctual to some degree) but also tend to eat more of the wrong kinds of foods (especially foods rich in fats, salt, and sugar), such as refined foods and snack foods. Such foods, while providing a temporary spike in blood sugar and energy level, often cause us problems concentrating and feeling energized more generally. So it’s best to eat foods that keep your blood sugar levels more stable, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as healthy protein foods such as fish rich in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids (salmon is a great choice). And if you really must snack, try some omega-rich nuts, abundant at this time of the year, but watch your portions (and avoid nuts that are heavily salted or roasted in oil), as nuts are also high in calories.
Get some exercise.
The benefits of regular exercise are too plentiful to count. But some of the biggest benefits are to our cardiovascular system and our mental acuity. Getting your heart rate elevated for as little as 12 minutes a day can improve your overall energy level, level of alertness, and stamina. And sustained exercise releases chemicals in your brain (principally, endorphins and enkephalins) that can dramatically improve your mood and sense of well being. Even if it’s one of those days where you really don’t feel like doing much, just a few minutes of healthy activity can help you get back in the swing of things. Be regular with your exercise, at least every other day.
Get plenty of good rest.
Our “biological clocks” tend to want to adjust to the shorter days. Rather than fight this tendency, it’s a good idea to take ample time to relax as well as to observe a regular sleep schedule. But be careful. In winter, it’s all too easy to overdo it with sleep, and oversleeping can actually make you more chronically tired and lethargic. Get a good 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. And if you need to, catch a brief nap in the afternoon to recharge.
Go to the light.
Don’t stay cooped up and in the dark. Sometimes the elements just don’t work in our favor during winter, making it hard to get out and about. And things can become even more challenging on days where there’s little to no sunshine, especially for those whose moods are strongly affected by the lack of light. But there’s almost nothing more depressing in the long run than virtually “hibernating” in your home and in the dark. Whenever weather permits, be sure to get out in the daylight and be active to some degree. Keep the blinds and curtains open in your home. And on those days when there’s simply no sun, be sure to expose yourself to sufficient artificial light (especially artificial light that provides the full spectrum of daylight wavelengths).
Enjoy the positive aspects of the season.
Winter can bring with it some trying times to be sure. But there are also some perks that come with the winter weather. Take time to enjoy winter sports, such as snow skiing, sledding, and ice skating. Bundle up for a nice stroll in a gentle, peaceful snowfall. Build a snowman or a snow fortress. Take time to savor the unique feel, sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of the season.
Think spring!
I’ve written before on the special fondness I have for springtime (“The Joys of Spring”). But you don’t have to wait for the longer, brighter, warmer days to come to enjoy some of the activities you typically associate with spring. Do some things that remind you of springtime, and before you know it, you’ll be feeling some of the energy of the season.

Suffering winter doldrums is not inevitable. Some folks aren’t as vulnerable to them as others, but there are things we can all do to stave them off. Cultivate a few healthy habits and make the season truly bright. Observing them can make all the difference between a season full of joy and a case of the blues.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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