Winter can seem long and dreary. But with a little creativity, you can make it all the way to spring with a smile on your face!
- Change your routine.
- Get some sun (or light box therapy).
- Engage in physical activity – outdoors, if you can.
- Freshen up your living space – even small changes can help.
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Winter has its share of delights. Who can resist settling in for a good movie with a steaming mug of hot chocolate? But let’s get real—many people are ready for springtime long before winter has run its course. Here are eight ways to outlast what can sometimes feel like the gloomiest season of all.
1. Change your routine
Routines can be comforting. But it might be time to inch out of your comfort zone. The satisfaction of trying something new can go a long way toward improving your mood.
- Cook a dish you’ve never tried before.
- Watch a documentary about something you know nothing about.
- Make last-minute weeknight plans with a friend.
- Start a conversation with someone you haven’t met before.
- Try out a new coffee shop.
- Volunteer at a community organization, such as a food pantry.
2. Remember to laugh
When was the last time you had a good laugh? If you’re overdue, there’s no time like the present. Laughter can change your brain chemistry to boost immunity, improve mental health, lower your stress hormones and strengthen relationships. Try these ideas for some extra chuckles:
- Choose a board game and invite friends over to play (Apples to Apples, Exploding Kittens and Outburst! can get everyone smiling).
- Scour the internet for a great joke and tell it to someone.
- Watch a stand-up comedy routine on YouTube.
- Find an old sitcom and see if the comedy stands the test of time.
Laughter can change your brain chemistry to boost immunity, improve mental health, lower your stress hormones and strengthen relationships.
3. Don’t go it alone
Spending time alone is a great way to recharge and refocus. But it can also lead to feelings of isolation and sadness, especially if you’re already feeling a little blue. Now might be a good time to strengthen your social connections. Start small by challenging yourself to do one or two social activities per week so it doesn’t feel overwhelming:
- Invite a friend to meet you for coffee or lunch.
- Exercise at a local gym instead of at home.
- Walk around the neighborhood and say hello to your neighbors--even the ones who don’t seem that friendly--they might surprise you!
- Reach out to someone you’ve lost touch with.
- Take a cooking or painting class.
4. Make time to exercise
Being physically active is essential for happiness, not just in the winter months but all year long. Even a brief walk can increase feel-good brain chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. In fact, research suggests that 35 minutes a day of physical activity may protect people from depressive episodes—even if they have a high genetic risk for the condition.
Even a brief walk can increase feel-good brain chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. Fresh air can help clear your mind, too.
Exercising outdoors is ideal, even if the weather isn’t great. That’s because exposure to sunshine can boost your mood. Fresh air can help clear your mind, too. Unless you’re braving cold waters with a polar bear plunge, here are a few tips to dress for success if your winter weather is chilly:
- The clothing closest to your skin should be made of wicking fabrics. These include high-tech polyester, which absorbs very little moisture. This will help keep you dry when you sweat.
- Your second layer should be made of fleece or wool for warmth.
- If it’s raining or snowing, wear a light, waterproof jacket.
- Wear thin glove liners, plus a pair of heavier gloves or mittens lined with wool or fleece.
- Wear up to two pairs of socks for maximum warmth: one nylon and the other wool.
If bad weather (or personal preferences) keep you inside, that’s OK! Any physical activity is beneficial, regardless of where it happens. Try an indoor pool, a yoga class or a walking track at a local gym. The important thing is to exercise regularly—and doing an activity you enjoy will help make that happen.
5. Soak up the sun (or fake sun)
Sunshine can be scarce in the winter. That’s not just a bummer, it’s a potential health hazard. A decrease in sunlight can disrupt your body’s sleeping patterns, and lower serotonin and vitamin D levels. This can lead to symptoms of depression.
Light therapy boxes emit outdoor light, which can help regulate your body's sleep/wake schedule and its natural release of the hormones that help you feel energized.
Spend time outside each day. The sun’s rays can reach you even when skies are overcast. For those who need a little extra boost, light therapy is a promising option. Light therapy boxes emit outdoor light, which can help regulate your body's sleep/wake schedule and its natural release of the hormones that help you feel energized. For best results:
- Read the label. The light box should provide exposure to 10,000 lux of light, with as little ultraviolet (UV) light as possible.
- Use light therapy within an hour of waking up in the morning.
- Put the box 16-24 inches from your face.
- Keep your eyes open when using the light, but don’t look directly at it.
6. Freshen up your living space
Take a look around your home. Are you seeing an organized living space, or a messy one? Piles of mail and magazines, baskets of laundry, random receipts and stacks of dirty dishes have a way of sapping energy and even causing anxiety. Take a few minutes to tidy up, then think about other ways to freshen the space. A few ideas include:
- Bring home a cheerful bouquet from the grocery store.
- Rearrange your living room or a bedroom.
- Repaint a tired looking table or chair.
- Organize a junk drawer or neglected closet.
- Take a look at your wardrobe: if you haven’t worn an item of clothing in a year or more, consider donating it to a thrift store.
7. Try aromatherapy
Think about how your sense of smell can influence your mood, too. Aromatherapy (also called essential oil therapy) is gaining recognition as a way to promote health and well-being. Among the more popular oils are ginger, tea tree, lavender and lemongrass. You can add essential oils to body lotions, hair products or liquid soap, or even spritz them in a room just as you would air freshener. Another form of aromatherapy involves burning sage. Research studies suggest that this practice, also called smudging, may activate certain brain receptors to help elevate mood and reduce stress.
Research studies suggest that burning sage, also called smudging, may activate certain brain receptors to help elevate mood and reduce stress.
8. Crank up the tunes
Don’t underestimate the therapeutic benefits of music. A 2013 study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who listened to upbeat music could improve their moods and boost their happiness in just two weeks. So go ahead and create a new playlist, find a new-to-you radio station, or ask your friends to suggest an up-and-coming artist. Your brain will thank you!
Know the red flags for seasonal affective disorder
During the winter months, it’s natural to feel a little blue from time to time. But for some people, the winter blues can become more serious. Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or depression.
- Greater than usual anxiety, sadness, loneliness, loss of interest in normal activities and mood swings.
- Excess sleepiness, difficulty sleeping.
- Appetite changes, significant weight gain or weight loss.
- Irritability or social isolation.
Learn more in this recent Providence #TalkWithADoc podcast on Seasonal Affective Disorder with Renee Rafferty, MS, LPC, Regional Director of Behavioral Health for Providence Alaska.
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What’s your favorite mood-boosting activity in the winter months? Share your experiences with #winterblahs @psjh.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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