In the winter, many people find themselves feeling a bit sluggish. The lack of sunlight can affect your mood and energy levels. As the weather becomes colder and wetter, most people start to spend far less time outdoors and be less physically active. All of this can bring on the dreaded winter blues.
If you’re suffering from the winter blues, you don’t have to just resign yourself to feeling this way. Here are 5 science-backed ways to help you beat the winter blues.
1. Get moving
When you feel a lack of energy, you may want to just lay around binge-watching shows. While rest is certainly important, the truth is that laying around all day generally doesn’t help. It’s important to be physically active, even when you don’t really feel like it. You’ll almost always find that your mood improves after a period of activity.
It might feel overwhelming even to think about a workout, but it usually doesn’t take much to help you feel better. Just get yourself moving. Go outside for a walk, even just for a few minutes. Put on your favorite song and dance, even if it’s just for the length of that one song. Often, five or ten minutes of activity will get your energy flowing again. Aim for at least a short burst of physical activity three times a day. If you start to feel energized and you want to do more, you certainly can.
2. Get some light
The lack of sunlight in the winter contributes to making a lot of us feel sluggish and unmotivated. It can help to take advantage of whatever sunlight there is. Try to get outside whenever there’s a sun break, keep curtains and blinds open during the day, and sit near a window whenever you can.
Still, in many parts of the country, there’s just not enough sunlight available in the winter. If seeking out the sun as much as possible is still not enough, then you might want to try a lightbox. This is a specially designed bright light that you sit in front of for 20 to 60 minutes every morning, to simulate sunlight. Studies have shown that light therapy can be beneficial to mood.
3. Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D
Sunlight is the key to making vitamin D, which is activated in your skin by UV light. In the winter, the intensity of the sun isn’t enough to make vitamin D in most parts of the US, even on a sunny winter day. This is why many people choose to take a vitamin D supplement during the winter. Research has shown a link between low vitamin D levels and depression, so if you’re not feeling great, it might be worth talking to your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement as a part of your routine to see if it helps.
4. Choose healthy foods
Many of us tend to crave sweets when we’re feeling down and lacking in energy. Although sugar might temporarily give you a small boost, you’ll just end up feeling worse later on. Instead of something high in processed sugar, try reaching for some dark chocolate as a treat. Some studies have shown that dark chocolate can boost mood and may offer other health benefits as well.
It’s also important to ensure that your brain is getting all the nutrients that it needs to function well. Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial to brain function; fish and nuts are great sources. Eat lots of fresh produce – berries, citrus, and leafy greens have been shown to be particularly beneficial. You certainly don’t have to deny yourself the occasional holiday treat, but try to focus on giving your brain everything that it needs to function well.
5. Laugh and play
When you’re feeling the pinch of the winter blues, that’s when it’s particularly important to give yourself reasons to laugh. Laughter can help to boost your mood and get your happy brain chemicals flowing. Try watching a comedy special or a funny movie. Even better if you watch it with a friend or loved one – social time will help to boost your mood, and maintaining healthy relationships is extremely important for mental health.
Similarly, when you’re not feeling your best, it’s especially important to give yourself time to do whatever makes you feel good. Try to prioritize doing the things that bring you the most joy. Aim for a few minutes every day doing something purely for fun, whether it’s making art, reading, or listening to music.
Sometimes it can feel tough to find the time because, during the winter, we’re often inundated with expectations just at the time of year when we’re feeling sluggish and low on energy. Give yourself permission to let go of the things on your to-do list that you don’t find meaningful or enjoyable so that you can spend more time on what you truly care about. Your family and friends want you to be happy and healthy far more than they need the trappings of the holidays.
Make sure it’s just the winter blues
It’s important to mention that while almost everyone’s mood changes in the winter, some people experience this more severely than others. If you’re finding that you’re having trouble eating or sleeping (doing either of these too much or too little), or you can’t function in your daily life, then you might have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
It’s worth talking to a healthcare professional about this if you’re experiencing it because treatment can be very helpful. People with SAD will still benefit from doing the things on this list, but they might need a little extra help to feel good again.
Please note: Information in this blog is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. If you have additional questions contact a trusted medical healthcare professional.