During the winter months, feeling less energetic, sad, or irritated is not uncommon. Commonly thought of as “the winter blues,” these feelings impact countless people, and they can make it seem like winter will never end. Winter brings shorter days, and the decreased sunlight can impact the body’s biological clock—the circadian rhythm. This can alter brain wave activity and even hormone production, so the general sluggishness and negative feelings aren’t just “in your head.” They’re very real, and they can be difficult to cope with.
There are, however, a lot of activities that can help boost your spirits and make you feel a bit better even on the dreariest of winter days. Below are just a few of our favorites. If nothing seems to help, though, and your “winter blues” are getting in the way of your life, you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. SAD is a form of clinical depression, and those who are dealing with it may require professional support or medication. Talk to your healthcare provider if your blues are feeling like a lot more than just a case of being down in the dumps.
If you have ever woken up on a dark, cold winter morning and just wanted to pull the covers over your head and stay in bed all day, congratulations. You’re human. It can be hard to get yourself out of bed in the dead of winter, but staying active is extremely important. Unfortunately, we humans are unable to hibernate and are forced to keep up with work, social obligations, school, etc.
The good news? Forcing yourself out of bed and getting some exercise will make that much easier. Staying active is great for your mental health. In fact, exercise often improves the symptoms of depression and anxiety1. Getting started isn’t always easy, but, once you do, you are almost guaranteed to feel better.
Do Some Redecorating
When the weather is preventing you from spending much time outdoors, work on redecorating the inside of your home to turn it into a place where you will love spending time. Been putting off investing in new furniture? Treat yourself to that new living room sofa you’ve always wanted. Or order a comfy recliner to curl up in while reading your favorite books or indulging in a Netflix binge session.
If updating your furniture isn’t in the budget, pick up a few new pillows or blankets for your sofa. Replace your bedding. Hang some new artwork or throw up a new coat of paint in your dining room. Do whatever you can to make your space feel refreshed and more comfortable. We think you’ll find that even minor updates will make you feel like being stuck inside isn’t such a bad thing.
Up Your Vitamin D Intake
We get most of our vitamin D from the sun. During the winter months, however, we don’t get nearly as much. Depression and a host of other diseases are associated with low levels of vitamin D2, so it doesn’t hurt to up your intake at this time of year. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)3, the recommended allowance of vitamin D for adults is 600 IUs (international units) per day. Some experts recommend taking even more.
Talk to your healthcare provider to find out if you would benefit from taking a vitamin D supplement and how much you should take. He or she can order a simple blood test to determine whether you are dealing with a vitamin D deficiency.
Try Something New
Thanks to a little thing known as neuroplasticity, our brains are constantly developing and changing over the courses of our lives. When we learn a new skill, it essentially rewires our brain4. This can help you escape from old thought patterns and put your brain to good use.
Learning to play an instrument, taking up a new artistic hobby, or even learning how to play a new game can all help you rewire your brain and cope with the winter blues. Taking up a new hobby or learning a skill can also give you something to look forward to and enjoy. It could even provide you with an opportunity to connect with other people and make new friends.
Use a Sun Lamp
Sun lamps and bright-light therapy have eased the symptoms of the winter blues and SAD for countless people. Sun lamps and light therapy boxes give off light that is at least 10 times brighter than standard home and office lighting, and they can actually help lift your mood. Try spending about 30 minutes sitting in front of one per day, and you are likely to start feeling at least a little bit better.
Spend Time with Friends and Family
When you don’t feel like going out, it is easy to isolate yourself from friends and family members. Doing so, however, is only likely to make the winter blues worse. Socializing is good for your mental health and can help keep negative feelings at bay, so make time to hang out with the people you care about. Invite them over for dinner or for a game night. Plan a get-together at a local bowling alley. Even something simple like meeting a friend for coffee or lunch helps.
Talk to Someone
If you are struggling with the winter blues, talk to someone. Sharing your feelings with someone you trust lifts your spirits and can make you feel validated. If you are struggling with feeling down and it is having a negative impact on your life, talk to your doctor. He may recommend that you set up an appointment with a counselor or therapist.
Seasonal affective disorder is often mistaken for a simple case of the winter blues, so it is extremely important to seek help if you think you need it. This condition affects millions of people and is nothing to be ashamed of. By talking to someone, you will likely find that bright, sunny days—both literal and figurative—are much closer than you think!