8 Natural Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

It’s that time of year again when the days are getting shorter and the temperatures are getting cooler. If you find that during this change of seasons you typically experience depression, loss of energy, or have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, you’re not alone.

Millions of people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression most commonly experienced between October and April. SAD is more common amongst women than men and frequently affects people living in northern geographic parts of the world.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include:

  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of energy
  • Heavy feeling in the arms or legs
  • Social withdrawal
  • Oversleeping
  • Difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Carbohydrate cravings
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Unhappiness and irritability

Whether you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or just the occasional winter blues, know that there are many effective natural treatments available. Here are some great ones to try this year:

1. GO OUTSIDE

A dose of natural sunlight and fresh air will boost your mood and energy level almost immediately. Do you sit inside an office all day? On your break, eat your lunch outside or bundle up and go for a 10-20 minute walk.

2. EXERCISE

When you exercise, your body releases mood-boosting endorphins and increases serotonin levels. Studies suggest that regular exercise can be an even more effective treatment for depression than taking antidepressants. Ideally, exercise outside so you can benefit from the sunlight and fresh air at the same time. If that’s not an option, hit the gym or workout at home to your favorite workout DVD. Whatever you do, get your body moving. It’ll also help you manage stress and anxiety, both of which can exacerbate SAD symptoms.

3. CONNECT WITH OTHERS

While going into hibernation mode may seem like the more appealing option, isolating yourself from others is only going to contribute to your depression even more. Instead of going home after work and surfing the web or spending countless hours in front of the TV, get together with your friends. Talking and laughing with the people you love will lift your spirits, so make an effort to increase social interaction during these winter months (even if you don’t feel like it!)

4. EAT FEWER SIMPLE CARBS

It’s not uncommon to crave sugar and comfort food when it’s cold and dark outside. Simple carbs might give you a boost in energy initially but it will leave you feeling tired and sluggish later in the day. Too many simple carbs and comfort foods can also cause weight gain which will only perpetuate the cycle of depression. Instead, eat more protein and complex carbohydrates to keep your mood elevated and cravings at bay. In general, avoid processed foods, avoid added sugar and artificial sweeteners, and eat more whole foods (a whole food is a food where the only ingredient in the food is the food itself, e.g. fruits, vegetables, organic meat, nuts, seeds, whole grains). 

5. TAKE A VITAMIN D SUPPLEMENT

Lack of natural sunlight is a major factor in SAD and contributes to a deficiency in Vitamin D, which can negatively impact mood, appetite and energy levels. Check with your doctor to see if taking Vitamin D is appropriate for your health needs.

6. WEAR SOMETHING THAT MAKES YOU FEEL GREAT

Does your wardrobe take a trip to Frumpy-town when the cold weather hits? While baggy sweaters and sweatpants are very effective in keeping you warm, they can also contribute to making you feel tired and sluggish, not to mention the fact that wearing loose shirts and elasticized waists all season makes it easy to pack on the pounds without even realizing it. If you don’t already have at least one nice outfit that you feel attractive and good about yourself in, go out and buy yourself one. Don’t wait until you’re a certain size- start feeling confident, sexy, and attractive NOW, wherever you are in your health journey!

7. EMBRACE THE SEASON

We have no control over what Mother Nature has in store for us in the winter, so complaining about the snow, gloomy days and freezing cold temperatures is not going to change anything. Take advantage of this time of year by seeing it as an opportunity to cozy up next to the fireplace, try new warm recipes (like soups), and get things done on your to-do list that you didn’t have any desire to do when it was sunny outside (e.g. finishing your book, cleaning out the attic, or working on your side project). If you’re into winter sports, plan a weekend getaway at the slopes or give ice skating a try. Got kids? Build a snowman together or take them sledding.

8. LIGHT THERAPY

A light box mimics sunlight exposure and sitting in front of it for only 30 minutes a day can improve mood and energy levels. Check out the goLITE BLU Therapy Device by Philips.

Having experienced seasonal depression since I was a kid, I’ve tried every single one of these strategies and can attest to the fact that they really do work (even the light therapy box!) If you are committed to getting through these next few months feeling cheerful and energized, I strongly encourage you to try these tips. I’ve found that there’s no one quick fix, but by incorporating a combination of strategies, you’ll be well on your way to feeling more energized and upbeat this winter.