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10 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

Shake off the winter blues with proven strategies to increase energy and joy.

Key points

  • We all experience the winter blues sometimes, and that's OK.
  • We can use simple strategies to increase energy, motivation, and hopefulness, even on the darkest of days.
  • We can decide when to lean in and when to push back on the winter blues—either choice is valid.
Source: Todd Trapani/Pexels
Bleak winter day
Source: Todd Trapani/Pexels

The winter blues are a part of life for many of us living in northern climates, where winter is marked by dark days and cold temperatures. Predictably, each winter, we are dismayed at the arrival of days or even weeks of feeling unmotivated, unsatisfied, and unhappy. The winter blues aren't necessarily a clinically diagnosable condition—like seasonal affective disorder—but when they last beyond a few weeks or get too intense, they can develop into something more serious. Therefore, while it's perfectly healthy (and even weirdly enjoyable sometimes) to lean into the decreased energy of this season, to lower the expectations on ourselves, or to go full "hygge" in cozy pajamas all day now and then, it can be helpful to have a clear exit strategy when the winter blues are starting to feel too uncomfortable or lingering too long.

So, if you're feeling low, apathetic, unmotivated, and lacking in energy, consider trying one or two of the following strategies. As you gain momentum, you can add more. With a few of these ideas in your daily rotation, you'll likely start to feel better within a week or so. As always, don't be afraid to reach out to a therapist for help with making these ideas work for you or if you try them and don't find them helpful. It's not a long leap from the winter blues to seasonal depression, so don't ignore persistent bad feelings—get help!

  1. Shower and get dressed. It's completely OK to indulge the urge to ignore personal hygiene and wear the same sweatpants all weekend when we are feeling low. But if we want to change that feeling, it's helpful to fight the torpor with simple actions. In this case, taking a shower, especially with pleasantly scented body soaps or shampoos (I like eucalyptus and peppermint scents), can be energizing and reset our moods. Putting on comfortable, attractive clothing is also extremely helpful for making us feel like productive human beings moving in the right direction. Do yourself a favor and start here if you feel miserable.
  2. Clean up. A cluttered, unkempt environment can make us feel like life is out of control. Some of us are more sensitive than others to environmental disarray, but all of us can benefit from selecting one or two things to tidy up and getting started. Just accomplishing one thing—loading the dishwasher and wiping down the countertops, for example—is enough to remind us that we can change our circumstances and instill a sense of hope.
  3. Listen to a motivating podcast or guided meditation. Insight Timer has hundreds of dharma talks that help promote helpful mindsets and perspectives. The Heart Wisdom podcast by Jack Kornfield and the Daily Stoic podcast are my favorites when I need to feel validated by also gain some perspective. For more practical daily motivation strategies, try the podcasts by Marie Forleo, the Lazy Genius, and Mel Robbins. And music can be helpful both to match or counter our moods. For example, I like to first listen to sad songs to really indulge my feelings and purge some tears, and then I switch to angry or upbeat music—NOFX, Al Green, Marvin Gay are all highly recommended—to help motivate me to get off the couch.
  4. Exercise. Sorry that you don't feel like getting off the couch. If you truly want to feel better, this is the fastest way to achieve it. It almost never fails. Need more energy? Exercise. Feeling Irritable? Exercise. Sad? Tired? Worried? Exercise. Exercise. Exercise. Take a peaceful walk in the woods with fresh air, heat it up at a yoga class at home or in a studio, or just push through a 10-minute HIIT workout. As long as we move our bodies, we are taking a big step toward feeling better. Bonus points if you do it outside in the fresh air.
  5. Speaking of fresh air, get out into nature. Even if it's bitterly cold, the beauty of nature is incredibly healing and helpful for putting things back into perspective.
  6. Help someone else. There’s nothing like taking the focus off ourselves and directing our energy toward helping someone else to make us forget our worries and regain our perspectives—and generate some positive karma. Bake cookies for a nursing home, donate to the food bank, call a lonely old neighbor, or bring in a neighbor’s trash can or shovel their driveway. Open a door. Offer a smile. No gesture is too small.
  7. Ask for help. People actually really love feeling helpful. So, do them a favor and ask if they can help in some practical way: They can take the kids for a play date while we go for a walk, meet up for coffee so we can vent, bring us soup and a loaf of bread so we don’t have to leave the house or cook dinner, etc. People seriously love doing stuff like this, so just ask.
  8. Meditate. There are countless forms of meditation to choose from, and there is one out there for you. Gratitude and lovingkindness meditations are my favorites for ushering in good feelings. Also, adopting a meditation habit is a great way to set the stage for improved well-being long-term, so consider setting aside 10 minutes in the morning or at night for some form of meditation.
  9. Make something or get creative. Bake a loaf of bread, play the piano, paint, doodle, color, make a collage ... you get the idea. Get your hands into something that allows you to be playful and creative. Follow a recipe if that feels helpful or throw out the idea of knowing what exactly you're trying to create. It's good for our brains and moods to have fun and do something novel.
  10. Take it easy. Maybe today isn’t the day to battle the winter blues. That's OK! If you have the ability to put life on pause for today and just lay on the couch and binge shows, take baths, etc.—whatever is going to feel good right now with minimal effort—then just do it. Give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling and give yourself the ease your body and mind are demanding. You’ll be ready at some point to move on, so just go with it.

I hope one or more of these strategies works for you. Remember to ask for help from friends or a therapist if you need it. You aren't alone. I wish you speedy relief from your winter blues!

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