“When the ‘winter blues’ hit, what we notice is often low energy and motivation, feeling down, and frequently also a pull to isolate. Often, that can actually make the mood worse,” says Simone Hoermann, Ph.D., a private –practice Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia University. “It can be helpful to be mindful of that tendency to want to hide out and stay away from it all, and to acknowledge it, and then to try to act opposite to that pull. Trying to get out to get some sunlight can boost your mood, exercising can have a positive effect, and instead of isolating, trying to connect with family, loved ones and friends.”
If cloudy winter days and chilly temperatures have led you to feel slightly sad, melancholy, and unenergetic, try lifting your spirits and improving your mood by incorporating the following tips and tricks into your daily routine.
“We tend to be far more social during the summer months and at the end of the year,” says Vanessa Pawlowski, Psy.D, a licensed clinical psychologist who practices privately in Beverly Hills Calif. “Then once January hits, you might notice that your social life slows down significantly. Spending too much time at home might leave you feeling blue after a while. Try to plan ahead of time the right amount of activities that you need to keep a good rhythm going.”
“During this season we hear people complaining a lot about winter,” Pawlowski added. “Can you shift your focus and recognize the parts of winter that you do like? What can you do during this time that you can't do any other time of the year? Do you have any traditions that you can start to make winter a more meaningful time for you?” She continued on to explain that creating positive wintertime experiences will help to keep the blues at bay.
Dr. Josh Axe, a chiropractic doctor, superfood nutritionist, and the creator of BurstFit, says that physical activity is a known way to naturally improve your mood. “A good workout or hard exercise releases serotonin and endorphins which control our feelings of well-being,” he writes. “Enjoying outdoor exercise can also provide us with fresh air and new sights which are a natural spirit-booster.”
“A healthy diet high in green leafy veggies, nuts, fruits, and natural unprocessed foods will reward you with a healthy, happy body whatever the season," says Axe. He suggests aiming for at least five portions of fruits and vegetables daily.
Axe also recommends including fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and anchovies in your diet, which are good sources of the essential oil omega-3. “Omega-3 has been shown to significantly reduce the symptoms of SAD as it relieves the general symptoms of anxiety,” he says.
To help keep your bones strong and your immune system healthy, during the winter and all year long, Axe recommends incorporating low-fat dairy products like yogurt, cheese, milk, and kefir in your diet.
Axe says that poor sleep quality and insomnia are signs of depression that can quickly lead to a downward spiral when not addressed. “Make sure you have a comfortable bed in a room that is the correct temperature,” he explains. “Concentrate on a healthy natural diet to avoid sleep problems which can be caused by caffeine, sugar, and highly processed foods.”
“Those who suffer from winter blues often have low levels of vitamin D, known as ‘the sunshine vitamin’,” says Axe. “Vitamin D is produced naturally when the skin is exposed to sunlight for 10 to 15 minutes several times a week.” He said if you don’t live an area where you have opportunities to get natural sunlight during the day, you should consider using a light box. “Light therapy gives your body the benefits of sunshine even on cloudy winter days.”
Axe says that the sun is the best natural source of vitamin D, but if your outdoor time decreases in the winter, it’s a good idea to increase your intake with a supplement. “Taken daily it helps support a healthy immune system to fight colds and flu among other benefits,” he says. “It also plays a significant role in mood regulation, so adequate vitamin D is essential to banish those winter blues completely.”
Steph Zabel, an herbalist and health coach with an MSc in ethnobotany helps people use natural remedies to stay healthy and well. She suggests using essential oils to fight off feelings of depression, stress, and anxiety. “Use uplifting essential oils such as Sweet Orange, Grapefruit or Rosemary in an aromatherapy diffuser,” she said. Zabel also recommends uplifting your spirits with natural teas like lemon balm, rose petals, or Tulsi. She says that many of these have traditionally been used as natural mood enhancers.
“Feeling down in the winter could be your body's way of telling you that something is out of sync,” says ACE-certified personal trainer Joshua Duvauchelle. “Returning to a place of balance with mindfulness exercises, such as tai chi and yoga doesn't just bring with it the mood-boosting benefits of exercise, but can also restore you to a contemplative, restful, and peaceful state where you can better handle the fluctuations that come with changing seasons.” He says that a multitude of studies support yoga's ability to help with stress, anxiety, and depression.
“People who suffer the winter blues often crave a natural amino acid called trytophan, contained in some foods, including chocolate,” says Jingduan Yang, MD, a prominent board certified Psychiatrist and expert in Chinese and Integrative Medicine. “Trytophan is involved in the manufacture of the feel-good hormone serotonin, which the body produces when exposed to sunshine.”