There are those who embrace winter and those who have to brace themselves for it. Not only does the profusion of cold and snow tend to drag spirits down, but the lack of daylight really does a number on mood, often sending it to a dark place. Be it a slight case of the blues or full-on SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), the symptoms tend to leave people feeling fairly lousy, with some combination of exhaustion (despite oversleeping), carb cravings, feeling withdrawn, moody or blue. The good news is that many of us can fight back without a pharmaceutical assist. Here are a few ideas on how to keep the blues at bay and take on winter – and win:
1. Energize With Real Sunlight
A daily dose of morning light will help re-set your body-clock and boost mood, so make an effort to seek out a few minutes of sunshine every day in winter. To get your dose:
- Take a coffee break outside in the sunshine, even if a coat and boots are required.
- Take 10 minutes to walk to the deli to buy your lunch or take a 10-minute walk around the office park.
- Park yourself in a sunlit corner or conference room – even better if you can open the window – and face the sun for a few minutes while catching up on calls or paperwork.
- Work at home? Then put on your coat, grab a deck chair and enjoy a quick lunchtime sunbathing session.
Think of your body as being thirsty for sunshine and try to give it ‘sips’ throughout the day to help boost mood and energy till about mid-April, the unofficial end of winter blues season.
2. Supplement with a Little of the Fake Stuff, Too
Full spectrum light bulbs are just about as close as you can get to sunshine without stepping outside – they’re a simple, DIY way to help lift flagging spirits and energy. While they won’t replace the real thing, think of the bulbs as a bit of supplemental sunshine to help fill the gap when natural light is hard to find. Among the blues-fighting side effects you may experience: less eye strain, reduced brain fog, boosted mood and immunity – so hit the lights!
- At home, try adding full spectrum light bulbs in areas of the house where you spend most of your winter time.
- At the office, you can also add a full spectrum bulb to your desk lamp, to sneak in a bit more faux sun.
- Try a daily dose from sunbox or SAD light therapy lamp – but use them early in the day to avoid disrupting sleep at night.
- If you find it tough to get out of bed in the morning, try a dawn simulator to ease the transition.
3. Amp Up Energy With a Power Pose
Feeling a little blah? Try doing the Reclining Open Chest Pose for a few minutes a day. It’s a restorative yoga pose that’s a helpful tool to help combat the seasonal energy drain. In the pose, the back and upper body is supported and the chest is open – a much-needed opportunity to stretch out and relax, all of which can help you feel more energized and emotionally buoyant.
4. Hold The Highballs
If you’re fighting the blues, don’t think you can drink ‘em away. If anything, consider cutting way back on alcohol, or better yet, ditch it altogether. In the short term, hangovers aside, spirits may make you merry, but in the long-run they tend to bite back, compounding winter blues, depressing mood, disrupting sleep, bombarding you with sugar while they immunity and sap energy. This winter, try keeping things on the sober side to avoid bringing yourself down.
5. Exercise Outdoors
There are a probably thousand reasons why we all need to exercise and here’s one more that may get your attention: exercise helps boost serotonin levels, one of the brain chemicals that helps regulate feelings of well-being and hunger, so keeping levels up can help you feel good and keep your waistline in check. Take it a step further and do some exercise outdoors in winter as studies have shown than an hour of outdoor exercise offers the same mood lift as 2.5 hours of light treatment indoors. What’s more, you’ll likely also burn more body fat with outdoor workouts as your body uses more energy to help maintain your core temperature. So who’s up for a brisk walk in the snow or a little cross-country skiing?
6. Change Your Attitude
Perhaps a bit easier said than done, but consider adopting a new attitude towards winter. Commit to staying positive and finding the good in the season to help loosen gloom’s powerful grip. Start by re-framing your image of endless winter because, believe it or not, it’s actually on the wane. Whenever you feel your mood slipping, remind yourself that as January progresses, we’re gaining an average of one to two minutes of daylight per day, so there’s light at the end of the tunnel – and thankfully, we’re moving swiftly towards it.
7. Change Your Latitude
Want to boost your mood? Plan a trip. You don’t even have to go on the trip, just plan one. According to researchers in the Netherlands, the mere anticipation of getting away is enough to help boost good feelings for several weeks. If time and budget permit, then by all means head to a sunny destination for a few days and expose yourself to a few doses of real, live sunshine to rev up your body’s vitamin D and serotonin production.
8. Treat Yourself – Well and Frequently
Winter is a good time to gift your body with a little extra pampering, so engage in health-promoting activities that make your body feel good. Take a sauna, book a massage, spend some time in a hot tub, or just enjoy a hot bath at home. Anything you can do that makes your body feel good, short of drugs or alcohol or over-indulging in comfort (and usually unhealthy) foods, is worth doing.
9. Don’t Isolate, Don’t Hibernate – Circulate!
It’s pitch dark. The snow is up to your knees. Going out and socializing is probably the last thing on your mind, but if you’re fighting the blues you might want to bump it up to the top of the list. Staying connected (not just digitally) with friends and family not only helps pass the time but can also help take the edge off winter blues symptoms, particularly when laughter is involved. When we laugh, blood pressure and stress levels recede and those feel-good endorphins are released, increasing feelings of well being. Not surprisingly, retreating or isolating behaviors will have the opposite effect, so be sociable no matter what the weather.
10. Eat Smart and Supplement Wisely
Eating wisely, avoiding sugar, comfort foods and sleep-inducing simple carbs will help keep the blues at bay, but in winter, the addition of a few supplements can also help keep spirits high. Here are my favorite blues-busters:
- Vitamin D: Most people in the northern hemisphere – even those without the blues – don’t get enough Vitamin D. As there’s growing evidence to suggest a link between SAD and low Vitamin D levels, I encourage patients to take at least 2,000 to 5,000 IU/day through the winter to keep brain chemistry and neurotransmitter action at optimal levels.
- Fish oils and other Omega 3’s play a role in the synthesis of serotonin, and are thought to elevate mood and decrease depression, so keep them on your radar – and your plate – in winter.
- Melatonin: 1-2mg of melatonin at bedtime can be helpful in relieving symptoms in some SAD suffers and in the over-40 crowd as melatonin levels tend to drop as we age.
- 5-HTP is the precursor in the biosynthesis of mood-boosting serotonin, so I often recommend 200-400 mg at bedtime.
- Magnesium: Low levels of magnesium can compound SAD symptoms by inhibiting the conversion of tryptophan to 5-HTP, which can decrease the production of mood-stabilizing serotonin and melatonin. 400-600mg of magnesium glycinate taken at bedtime is well tolerated by most people.
For more ideas on how to boost energy through the winter and beyond, check out these tips on how to boost energy naturally.