7 Tried and True Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

The winter holidays are over. If you are feeling sleepy, lazy, or craving mountains of high-carb foods-you are not alone. Ever heard of the winter blues? Studies say that one in four of us suffer from some sort of dip in mood or productivity during the winter months. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression that usually begins in late fall or early winter and fades as the weather improves, can cause people to feel depressed, irritable, lethargic, and have trouble waking up in the morning. Season Affective Disorder is a stronger form of the typical “winter doldrums” and is typically diagnosed after at least two consecutive years of more intense symptoms.

"While a person with winter doldrums may have difficulty waking up or getting out of bed at times, someone with seasonal affective disorder cannot get to work on time," says Michael Terman, PhD, director of the Winter Depression Program at New York Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University Medical Center. "With the doldrums, it's in the norm to gain up to 5 or 6 pounds over the winter, but with full-blown SAD, weight gain can be far more than that."

Either way, it stems from the same cause: Sensitivity to the lack of sunlight that results from winter's "shorter" days and disrupts our circadian rhythm, or internal body clock.

So what to do? Luckily, there are many things that can give you a jumpstart and blow away much of the winter blues, so you can feel like yourself again. KURU has collected a list of the 7 top ways to beat the winter blues:

  • Make your environment brighter. This can be as simple as opening your windows first thing in the morning to maximize the daylight inside your home or workplace. The lack of light can create a depressive atmosphere and leave you unproductive. And the darkness triggers a hormone called melatonin. Normally, it helps your body regulate sleep patterns but in the winter months when there is less light, your body thinks it is night a lot more often. Causing an overproduction of melatonin and that can result in sluggishness or depression. If you cannot open a window nearby, try adding some living plants or bright colors to your space to simulate the natural cheeriness of the warmer months.
  • Another cool trick? Invest in a daylight simulator. Many companies sell “dawn lights” or alarm clocks that give off UV rays or a cheery blue light that can mimic natural light. This is great to get you started in the morning and feel a little more refreshed. Light therapy has been known to help in 80% of SAD cases!
  • Exercise! Need another reason to hit the gym? This is it: Working out can improve your mood, make you more alert, and increase your overall health. In the winter, it is especially important to get out and get moving since the lack of warm weather causes many of us to hibernate. Not only will you feel better when your body is filled with endorphins (the “happy” chemical that is released during physical exercise), but you will have a jump on your spring and summer fitness!
  • Stay social. Have you been hiding out in your house since Christmas? Well no more! A big part of feeling better is to surround yourself with good friends or family. Go out and do some sort of activity with others at least once a week. That alone can quickly give you results. You will feel better just from leaving your house, and your friends can make you more cheerful. Still feeling blue? Going out with trusted companions means that you have someone to talk to right there. Give it a try!
  • Keep a healthy diet. What and when you eat has a great affect on your mood and energy. Avoid refined and processed foods (like white breads, rice, and sugar). These foods are not only devoid of the nutrients your body craves, but they zap your energy levels and can affect your mood—causing depression, lack of concentration, and mood swings. Try to incorporate more complex carbohydrates (whole wheat breads, brown rice, veggies, fruit) and get your daily 8 cups of water. These healthy foods provide your body and mind with nutrients, and stabilize your blood sugar and your energy levels.
  • Make your bed everyday. This may seem a little too simple, but it can really work. The simple act of making your bed will leave you feeling (even if it is only a little) accomplished. And the neater room will brighten your day since clutter has been known to contribute to stress and anxiety. Plus, if you go through the extra trouble of making your bed, you are much less likely to crawl back into bed before bedtime.
  • Take a trip! When you are feeling like you just “go through the motions” every day, you may start to feel a sense of boredom or hopelessness. This can quickly be remedied by a change of scenery or routine. Take a winter vacation to break up the winter lull, and give yourself a treat! Find somewhere warm if you want to have a taste of summer. Or just take a short jaunt to a local cabin or nice hotel. The nice hotel will leave you feeling pampered and improve your mood while you recharge. Better yet: combo two of these blues-busting tricks and take a trip with friends or family!

If you try each of these methods, you are bound to find something to improve your mood. The winter doldrums are hard to escape, but thankfully they can be treated with some simple changes to your daily routine. If you still struggle, or have a hard time completing regular tasks, talk to your physician.