We’re officially in the depths of winter–it may not be cold everywhere in the country, but it’s chilly, damp, grey, and just generally blah. Seasonal Affective Disorder–or, appropriately, SAD–is the term used for depression that’s related to the seasons–but even if you don’t suffer from full-blown SAD, winter can often bring on the blues. Here’s how to lift your mood, even if the weather isn’t sunny.
Do what the Norwegians do
Parts of northern Norway (and, for that matter, northern Canada) are in partial or complete darkness for a good chunk of the year. Interestingly, though, levels of depression are lower than might be expected. What’s the secret? Turns out that Norwegians actually look forward to winter, revelling in winter-specific activities, the coziness of staying warm, and the fun of getting outside in the snow. A simple mindset might be all you need to flip the switch on the winter blahs–find some winter activities you find fun, then allow anticipation to boost your mood.
A big reason Norwegians are so happy about winter is that they actually get outside, despite the dark and cold. There’s a definite link between being outside and having a better mood, so do whatever you need to do–get a good coat, get a funky hat, get some warm boots–to make it comfortable to get some fresh air every day. You don’t need to go skiing or skating, either, although those are fun–just going for a walk at lunchtime can lift your spirits.
Get some exercise
We all know that exercise and a better mood are linked, but winter makes it really, really hard to get up the motivation to move from the comfy couch and the warm bed to get out and break a sweat. It’s awesome if you can get outside, but even if you want to stick to indoor sports (heh), exercise will help get you out of the blahs. Pick whatever will get you moving–running, yoga, ballroom dancing, Crossfit–and you’ll find your mood picks up.
Get some sun
Exposure to bright light can help folks who find winter’s darkness hard to take. Although you can get a light exposure lamp to use inside, getting outside in the first couple of hours in the morning can be a cheaper, easier option. Bonus points if you combine getting some sun with exercise–morning walk, anyone?
Check your vitamin D levels
Low levels of vitamin D–which is not uncommon in people who live in northern climates–can lead to lowered moods. Ask your doctor to test your vitamin D levels, and see whether a supplement might help. Eating oily fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, or tuna can help boost your D intake without having to take a pill.
Make sure you get enough sleep–but not too much
We all hear that it’s important to get enough sleep, but it’s also important not to sleep too much. Try and keep your sleep between 7 and 9 hours each night to keep your mood stable, as too much sleep can make an already depressed mood worse. Of course, not enough sleep can make you unhappy as well, so do your best to get just enough–whatever that means for you.
Emphasize complex carbohydrates, protein (especially oily fish), and fresh fruits and veggies. Although winter makes it tempting to chow down on simple carbs, do your best to limit them. You’ll feel better in the long run. That being said, don’t get down on yourself if you do indulge–guilt won’t do anything for your mood either.
Do as the Danish do and embrace hygge, a concept generally translated as coziness. Drink warm beverages, cuddle down with soft, fluffy blankets and pillows and revel in warm baths and crackling fires. There’s a social side to hyyge too, so have friends over for a warming meal of stew and fresh bread, or go for a hike then grab some hot chocolate.
While there are lots of ways to combat the winter blahs, if you feel like your low mood is interfering with your everyday life, or if activities you would usually enjoy aren’t making you happy anymore, talk to your doctor. SAD can affect how you function, so it’s important to seek medical attention if your mood is too low to bring back up on your own.
What’s your favourite way to keep your spirits up during the winter?