8 Research-Supported Ways to Bust the Winter Blues
Feeling tired, blue, or blah? Try these ideas to regain your enthusiasm.
Posted December 21, 2015
16% of the U.S. population experiences the "winter blues," which are often worst in northern climates from November to March when people have less access to sunlight, the outdoors, and their communities. Another 4% develops Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of clinical depression that often requires formal treatment.
If you have the winter blues, you may feel “blah,” sad, tired, anxious, or be in a worse mood than usual. You may struggle with overeating, loss of libido, work, or sleep issues. The holidays can also play a factor, with more stress and less time to rest.
The Golden Lunch Hour
Research has shown that walking on your lunch break just 3 times per week can reduce tension, relax you, and improve your enthusiasm. If you are a working from 9 to 5, the only window you have to access natural sunlight may be your lunch hour.
Research suggests that a full-spectrum light box or lamp, which mimics sunlight, can significantly improve the symptoms of the winter blues and has a similar effect to an antidepressant. Bright light at a certain time every day activates a part of the brain that can help restore normal circadian rhythms. While light treatment may not be beneficial for everyone (such as people who have Bipolar Disorder), it may be a beneficial tool for some.
The Winter Trip
It may be helpful to plan a getaway for January or February. Plan to take it very easy, as one research study found that passive vacation activities, including relaxing, "savoring," and sleeping had greater effects on health and well-being than other activities. Engaging in passive activities on vacation also makes it more likely that your health and well-being will remain improved for a longer duration after you go back to work.
Sometimes people mistake the natural slowness of winter as a problem within themselves. By making an concerted effort to savor the slowness, rest, and retreat that complement winter, you can see your reduction in activity as a natural and needed phase. Research suggests that naps help you release stress. Other research suggests that when your brain has time to rest, be idle, and daydream, you are better able to engage in "active, internally focused psychosocial mental processing," which is important for socioemotional health.
Make a "cozy basket" filled with your favorite DVDs, bubble bath or Epsom salts, lemon balm tea (which is great for “blues,”) or chamomile tea (which is calming and comforting), citrus oils (which are good for boosting mood), a blanket, or a favorite book or two. Choose a comfortable outfit to go with it. If you start to feel the blues, treat yourself.
Real Human Interaction
Because of the complex demands of modern life, it can be hard to see or keep up with friends or family. The winter can make it even harder. Real human interaction – whether it’s having dinner with a friend, going on a date with your partner, or talking on the phone – acts as a protective layer to keep the winter blues at bay. Research suggests that social interactions are significantly related to well-being.
(At Least) 10 Minutes of Fresh Air
A number of research studies have shown positive effects of nature on well-being, including mental restoration, immune health, and memory. It works wonders for your mood to get outside in winter, even if it’s just for 10 minutes 2 to 3 times per week. You might walk, snowshoe, shovel, go sledding, or go ice-skating. If you can't get outside, you might try these specific yoga poses for the winter blues.
Add a Ritual
Adding a ritual to your winter, such as Friday night movie night, hot chocolate after playing outside, homemade soup on Sundays, or visiting a different friend every Saturday morning for breakfast, can add beauty and flow to the seemingly long months of winter. Research has suggested that family rituals and traditions, such as Sunday dinner, provide times for togetherness and strengthening relationships.
Counseling, which helps you identify the connections between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, can be extremely helpful for the winter blues (especially when you are also experiencing anxiety or stress). A counselor can assist you with identifying and honoring feelings, replacing negative messages with positive ones, or shifting behaviors. A counselor may also help you indulge into winter as a time of retreat, slowness, planning, and reflecting. You may choose to use the winter to get clear on what you’d like to manifest in spring.
The opposite of the winter blues is not the absence of the winter blues – it’s taking great pleasure in the unique contribution of a time of cold, darkness, retreat, planning, reflecting, being cozy, and hibernating.
Nurturing yourself and your relationships can help you move toward winter joy.
Copyright Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD
Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD, author of Joy Fixes for Weary Parents (2017), is a psychotherapist for individuals and couples in Chicago’s western suburbs. She specializes in counseling for parents of young children. Sign up for blog articles at www.thejoyfix.com on Facebook.