10 Cool Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

Elizabeth Shein

winter blues, seasonal affective disorder, sad, mental health, well-being, holidays, winter

Oh, the weather outside is frightful…and you may not be feeling so delightful. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do both to prevent the winter blues and improve your mood.

More than half the people living in places where there are four seasons report having the “winter blues” – a mild depression characterized by a lack of motivation and low energy. In 2-3% of the population, these difficulties are very severe. They recur as an annual depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and women are often more affected than men.

Here are some tips for making peace with winter and cheering up:

1. Think like a Norwegian

In Northern Norway, people view winter as something to be enjoyed, not just endured. What if you embrace winter instead of resisting it? The author of a study in Northern Norway found that people are actually less depressed because they have a positive wintertime mindset. The cold gives them a chance to drink hot beverages, skate or ski, build snowmen, or sit by a fire and visit with friends.

Mindset research is increasingly finding that it doesn’t take much to shift one’s thinking. Consciously try to have a positive mindset and that might be enough to induce it.

2. Let the sunshine in

Research shows that exposure to bright light upon awakening is very effective in treating winter depression. The Mayo Clinic advises that light therapy can help relieve symptoms when used either on its own or with other treatments such as medication or aerobic exercise. Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and has a positive effect on brain chemicals linked to mood. Buy a light unit that has been clinically tested, open blinds and curtains, trim back tree branches, and sit closer to windows for an extra dose of sunshine. Lighten up…literally!

3. Activity – Take it outside

Regular aerobic exercise works like an antidepressant charm. A morning exercise routine is best, especially one that includes outdoor activity. So pick up a new winter sport like snowshoeing, skiing, or ice fishing. There’s a saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Why not invest in clothing that keeps you warm, cozy, and dry?

Those Scandinavians are on to something. A recent study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports reports that a 30-minute lunchtime walk three times a week boosts mood while increasing alertness and enthusiasm at work. Outside is best. If that’s not possible, exercise under bright lights to boost your mood.

4. Turn on the tunes

You know how vacuuming goes better with music, as does anything you really don’t like to do? Crank up your favourite music – something that makes you want to dance or takes you to another (perhaps warmer) place. A 2013 study at the University of Missouri reported that listening to upbeat or cheery music significantly improves mood in both the short and long term.

5. Cook up some comfort

Mac’n cheese, cinnamon buns, mulled wine…yum. We all love winter comfort foods and in moderation, these are fine. But good nutrition makes a difference for our mental health. For those times when you just want to curl up under a warm blanket, meal planning can help you avoid the lure of takeout and comfort food. Get your daily fruits and vegetables with roasted veggies, stewed winter fruits, and healthy soups. Make up big batches of soup and freeze them in portions. Spend a few cozy hours making a stew and your kitchen will smell like comfort.

6. Drink lots…of water

It’s important to stay hydrated. Water helps keep your skin glowing and healthy in the harsher weather and helps remove toxins and waste from your body (all those comfort foods!). It can prevent headaches and reduce joint and muscle pain. Try adding a slice of lemon, lime, or cucumber for increased flavour and a flash of colour. Limit your alcohol consumption. Alcohol is actually a depressant and can leave you feeling more blue.

7. Find an activity you enjoy and do it…a lot!

Find something that you like and then commit to doing it. Think back to what you enjoyed as a child or always wanted to do. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to play an instrument. Or study a new language. Or make something. It doesn’t have to cost anything. Ask someone to share their talent or offer your own skills in exchange for theirs.

8. Treat yourself – plan ahead

Why not make a list of all the things you are looking forward to this winter? Look at it whenever you start to feel down about the season. Even better, plan things to look forward to and put them in your calendar. Research shows that simply anticipating something you like makes you happier, and this is a practical way to put that into action. This can be a weekend getaway, massage, time at a spa, special dinner, party with friends, or concert…start dreaming now.

9. Laugh and get social

Author Victor Hugo once said, “Laughter is the sun that drives winter away from the human face.” Laughter can help to decrease stress hormones and lighten your mood. Watch funny movies, play board games, or try laughter yoga. Keep a mental list of people you can turn to when you’re down and need a pick-me-up: family, friends, mentors, coworkers, and neighbours. Oftent a simple phone call, chat over coffee, or nice email can lift your mood.

10. Ask for help

If these tips are not enough to get you out of the winter blues, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Speak to your doctor or call your local mental health centre. If your symptoms are severe and debilitating, cognitive behavioural therapy or other forms of therapy and medication can be very helpful.

Like it or not, winter is coming. We may as well roll with it. Snowball fight, anyone?


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Author: Elizabeth Shein (MSW, RSW)
Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute

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