10 Ways to Chase Away the Winter Blues

Come on, get happy.

I love to see the days get longer as January and February progress. Still the gray tone of the light and cooler temps—not to mention the remnants of Jonas’ calling card—can bring anyone down.

Don’t beat yourself up if you’re feeling a little drained. Even the most optimistic among us are struggling. According to statistics from the American Academy of Family Physicians, about 10 to 20 percent of us experience some form of mild winter blues, even if the feeling is not strong enough to be classified as clinical depression.

“I think a big part of it is you get all that excitement in the last three months of the year then in January, it abruptly stops,” says life coach Jacqueline Marinaro, Ph.D., and owner of Delaware Life Coaching in Smyrna.

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The laws of nature promise that spring will arrive, even if it feels like an eternity away. But what can you do in the meantime to ease the mid-winter doldrums?

1. Plan ahead. Dutch researchers found that the simple act of planning a trip can increase overall happiness. Can’t get away? Plan a regular activity with friends or family. Doing things you enjoy is good for your emotional well-being, plus it gives you something to look forward to, says Marinaro.

2. Exercise. Activity is a proven mood enhancer. A slew of studies stretching back to 1961 have concluded that working out makes people and animals emotionally resilient. Exercise also reduces stress, promotes better sleep and boosts energy. It can also help you shed those few extra pounds you may have packed on during the holidays. 

3. Eat, drink and be happy. What we nosh can have a profound effect on our emotions. While it’s tempting to curl up with comfort food during the winter months, candy and carbs may not be the best choices for our bodies or psyches. Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center found that participants who consumed a diet rich in refined carbs were more likely to be depressed. The inverse was also true: Participants who ate more dietary fiber, whole grains, fruits and vegetables—complex carbs—were less likely to be down in the dumps. 

Because it’s not hot, we tend to drink less during winter. But dehydration can make you cranky. Make a conscious effort to sip on water throughout the day or make cups of hot tea. Broth-based soups are also an option.

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4. Go to the light. You can often make yourself happier by lighting up your life. Open the curtains when the sun makes an appearance. Bundle up and go outdoors to feel the sun on your face. Go for a drive or simply take the long way home when running errands.

5. Get social. Limit time on social media to make room for real interactions. “We have the need to compare ourselves to each other so we’re looking at Facebook and what everyone else is doing, it puts us in a slump,” says Marinaro. Power down your computer, pick up the phone and call someone. Plan regular get-togethers with family and friends. Aim for some sort of personal and enjoyable interaction daily.

6. Clear cutter. Mess is stress. Eighty-seven percent of women polled in a survey done on behalf of “The Huffington Post” cited clutter as their main source of home-related anxiety. Now’s the perfect time of year to cull through your old clothes, books, magazines and stacks of papers you just don’t need.

7. Turn on the tunes. A 2013 study out of the University of Missouri found that people can actively improve their moods by listening to cheery music.

8. Pay it forward. Helping others is another way to lift your spirits. A 2013 research project that examined data from 40 published studies found that volunteers had lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction and enhanced well-being. They lived longer as well.

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9. Get outdoors. Don’t let winter’s chill keep you indoors. Take a long walk. If you work in an office, round up your co-workers and eat lunch outdoors. Even on cold or cloudy days, the light can help lift your mood, according to the Mayo Clinic.

10. Do something nice for yourself. Treat yourself by indulging in something you really enjoy. Read a book, cultivate a hobby, catch up with Netflix. Set aside some time in your schedule and make it non-negotiable—this is your time and no one else’s. “Nobody is good to anyone else if they’re not taking care of themselves,” says Marinaro.