As the warm weather ends, it marks for many the beginning of a season filled with holiday celebrations and family traditions. But for some, the time change also marks the beginning of winter blues. Winter blues are a common phenomenon that arrives when the seasons change from spring, summer, and autumn into wintertime.
After the festive cheer subsides, finding engaging activities for winter break can be a key strategy in combating the winter blues. Experts suggest embracing the season by indulging in winter-specific activities. Whether it’s ice skating, snowboarding, or simply enjoying a book by the fireplace, these activities not only provide physical engagement but also help uplift your spirits. Organizing cozy indoor game nights with family or friends, trying out new winter recipes, or even starting a creative project like knitting or painting can bring joy and a sense of accomplishment. Embracing the beauty of the season, rather than resisting the change, can transform your winter experience into a period of personal growth and happiness.
We asked experts, and they shared their tips on how to beat the winter blues.
What exercises can people try at home to improve their mental and physical form?
“1. Take walks or run for 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Always stretch and warm up to avoid injuries from pulling muscles.
3. Practice bodyweight exercises from squats to planks to work the upper and lower body if you don’t have equipment.
4. If you do have weights, try lifting any amount that works your muscles after at least ten reps.
5. Exercise 2-3 days per week to allow yourself some rest.”
How to get motivated to exercise in winter
“Getting motivated in winter is about embracing your environment. Participating in winter sports or activities is a great way to stay motivated. Remember, your body does burn more calories when exercising in cooler temperatures. If getting outside is not for you, a great way to stay motivated is to set a springtime goal. For example, if you plan a beach vacation in March or April, it’s much easier to focus on that to keep your exercise goals on track.”
How to develop awareness to eat healthy during winter
“A great way to develop awareness around healthy eating in the Winter is to go to a farmer’s market near you. Shopping at the farmer’s market can help you eat seasonally, a great way to attune with the world around us. When we eat food local to our environment, we are also eating foods that have just been harvested and often have the best nutritional value. While shopping, see if you can notice the different colors and try to choose foods that represent the rainbow (or part of the rainbow). Eating a variety of colors (from natural sources) is one way to make sure you’re getting a wide variety of nutrients.”
Samantha Elkrief, LCSW, Brain Food Clinic
How to improve sleeping cycles during winter
“The circadian rhythm that governs the sleep/wake cycle is strongly dependent upon light. During the winter as the dark hours grow longer it is deeply supportive to the body’s natural clock to expose the eyes to sunlight during the daylight hours. The best way to do this is to get outside into nature. The wonderful combination of light, fresh air, blood circulation and the regulating properties of nature will help you feel more alert, elevate your mood, and also help to usher in a restful night’s sleep when night time arrives.”
Kate Upton, Kamalaya
How to get rid of bad thoughts that the winter blues bring?
By following these tips, you can help get rid of bad thoughts that the winter blues bring. Taking care of your mental health is essential for a happy and healthy life.”
How can exercise help with seasonal depression?
“Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a type of depression that occurs during fall and winter. SAD is thought to be caused by changes in seasons and the reduced amount of sunlight during these months. While medication and therapy are two common treatments for SAD, exercise is also an effective way to combat the symptoms of this condition. Research has shown that exercise can be just as effective as medication for treating SAD.If you’re struggling with seasonal depression, know that you’re not alone—and there are things you can do to feel better! Exercise is a great option for treating SAD because it’s natural, has no side effects, and you can do it on your own at home (or outside in the sunshine!). Just remember that any amount of exercise can be helpful; you don’t need to go overboard or push yourself too hard— moderate amounts of physical activity regularly are all you need to see results.”
Alan Morton, TRAINFITNESS
Tips to stay active during winter season
“The best tip or advice I can give for staying active during the winter season is to be flexible with yourself, but don’t treat it as an excuse to just completely go off the wagon and give up on your fitness goals. Many people have the all or nothing mindset when it comes to fitness, so their thought process goes something like this: “I won’t be able to make great progress or I won’t be able to maintain my activity levels because I’m going to be very busy, stressed, and there will be too much temptation to overeat or skip out on my activity goals. Therefore, since I can’t be 100% I will just stop entirely, but I’ll hit it really hard after (Jan 1st) when I’ll be more motivated. This is really just a scapegoat reason to quit, because the truth is that while the holidays make it harder, it’s certainly not impossible to maintain your fitness levels even with some extra holiday temptations and stressors. It’s great to be flexible, and a lot of people should certainly be realistic and lower their expectations for progress during stressful times that are filled with lots of temptation. But, giving up entirely is a sure fire way to lose all progress and fall back into unhealthy habits. The solution is to ditch the all or nothing mentality, and instead set reasonable expectations for what you can do over the holidays. Maybe you can’t work out five times a week for an hour, but you can still work out three times a week for an hour. Might not be reasonable to have 100% adherence to your good nutrition habits, but you can still get them 80% of the time. Maybe you won’t be able to lose weight over the holidays, but you can probably maintain your losses or at least not gain a significant amount. You may not be able to gain as much strength or muscle, but you can probably maintain most of what you have gained. Put some thought into what is reasonable for you, and then set some realistic Holiday goals based off of that.”
How does yoga helps to reduce depression?
“Yoga is also cited for reducing depression symptoms among practitioners. Basically, this ancient wellness activity helps in lowering cortisol levels (which induces stress and even anxiety). Yoga can be an effective supplement to other treatments or approaches to depression. Yoga can also allow practitioners to connect with nature, which also invites peacefulness and calmness.”
How can acupuncture help cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder?
“Acupuncture can be used to help people with depression and anxiety – two issues that come up for those who are impacted by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Because acupuncture can help bring a person’s body to a more balanced state by affecting neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins, it can be a great option to help mitigate anxiety and depression during the darker months.”
How to prioritize mental health at home?
“To optimize mental health at home we have two suggestions. First, find a dedicated space. The space can be modest, a quiet closet or bathroom. You could also incorporate some luxury or iconography for inspiration. Perhaps you have a beautiful cushion specifically dedicated to meditation or a picture of an aspirational vacation location that helps you feel content. We also suggest you find a specific time of day to integrate mental wellbeing exercises into your routine. A convenient time might be within 5 min or waking up in the morning. Perhaps right before or after you brush your teeth. You might prefer to meditate just before going to bed as part of an evening ritual to promote better sleep. We always encourage consistency over duration. Mental wellbeing exercises work if you do the work.”
Tips for handling stress during the winter
“Healthy levels of serotonin are important in maintaining our ability to cope with stress, so in winter we need to do more to ensure healthy levels are maintained. You can maintain your serotonin levels by ensuring a healthy lifestyle via:
- self-induced mood change leads to increased serotonin (best approach)
- increasing exposure to sunlight when possible
- improving diet
- Increasing exercise
- removing or managing the actual cause of the stress
- avoiding sleep deprivation.
This is great news, however, the really good news is we have the ability to handle stress in winter just the same as in other times of the year – that is by ensuring we approach our lives with a mindset that ensures we view situations as purely contextual. The situation will pass and stressing or worrying about it will not fix it. Spend time seeking solutions rather than worrying. Approaching life from this angle ensures you will always find a way to alleviate the challenges of stress in your life. Oftentimes, it is just about slowing down but, usually it is by changing how we relate to the situation that is stressing us and that is influenced by maintaining levels of serotonin necessary for a healthy lifestyle and ‘stress-free” life.”
Brett Tannahill, Quality Mind Global
How can journaling help to beat the winter blues?
“Journaling is a great way to help identify emotions, thoughts and feelings. If you are feeling the winter blues, journaling can help by letting you get in touch with the flavor or texture of your emotions. Once you get in touch with the feelings, you can discover ways to take care of yourself that might lift you out of those winter blues. You can use journaling prompts to explore a certain theme or issue that is up for you at the moment, or you could simply start with the question: what is going on for me at the moment? Or: what am I feeling right now? By allowing yourself the freedom to write whatever comes to mind – without stopping or editing – you might be surprised to learn a few things about yourself that may not have come to the conscious awareness until you dedicated time to invite it. When you explore emotions through journaling, you might learn that they are just a set of physical sensations. So if you’d like to try this for yourself grab your journal and a pen and ask: what are these winter blues all about, and what could I do to take care of myself?”
Kim Roberts, Tools for Evolution
How to cope with climate anxiety
“The best ways to combat climate anxiety are to acknowledge your role and have hope. Understand what is within your power to change, and take care of yourself mentally. When you vote, make sure the candidates you support in turn support proper measures to ensure climate justice. We must work together as a society to hold corporations, world governments, and other entities accountable in order for real, transformative change to happen.”
What is the best treatment for someone with seasonal affective disorder?
“One of the most effective treatments for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), for fall-onset, is light therapy. Light therapy is often one of the first lines of treatment for SAD; however, there are additional treatments that can and have shown to also be helpful. These include:
- Psychotherapy, particularly Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Taking antidepressant medications, particularly SSRI’s
- Exercising, getting outside
- Eating well
- Taking supplements (e.g., Vitamin D & B12, Fish Oil, St. John’s Wart, SAMe)
- Participating in mind-body practices such as yoga, acupuncture, meditation/guided imagery, and massage therapy
The first step, talk with your healthcare provider. It’s important to note, that sometimes it takes ‘trial and error’ to see which one(s) work best for you, so give 1 or more a try and document your progress.”
Matthew Grant, Northstar P+C Services
How to deal with the increased stress from the holiday season
“Five practical ways to better deal with the increased stress during the holiday season are:
- Plan ahead: By having a plan when what needs to be done (e.g. what food will be needed for the meals, who will come, what tasks will need to be done.)
- Make a list: e.g. you can buy groceries in bulk ahead of time and save time and don’t need to go out often to buy just one thing that you forgot.
- Delegate tasks and ask for help: Are there others in your household? Request help from spouse, children (if applicable), and even friends and relatives. If you host a party and others attend, most will happily bring a creation of their own (but do not forget to truly appreciate everything they bring…)
- Focus on what goes right instead of what goes wrong. Things don’t need to be perfect. Think progress, not perfection.
- Add some moments of rest and self-care. Enjoy a bubble-bath, a hot shower, or a walk in nature. Appreciate the little things, the little moments in life. Gratitude and appreciation make life easier and better.”
How can people winterize their yoga practice?
“Several tips I share with our students. Remember to keep drinking lots of water, we may or may not feel as thirsty in the colder months, but we still need the same amount of water. For yoga it is ideal to hydrate 30-60mins before yoga practice and 30-60mins after yoga practice. Boiling water enriches it with energy and it gains a quality that in Ayurveda is called sukshma (penetrating), which allows purification of the subtle channels of the body through deeper penetration into the physiology. Drinking hot water regularly is a simple Ayurvedic recommendation. Boiling the water for ten minutes stimulates agni directly, allowing food to be processed and absorbed more efficiently during the meal. Taken between meals, it can provide effective support in flushing out water-soluble toxins from the dhatus (body tissues). Using a good quality mustard or almond oil for massage, in the evening, after yoga asana and meditation practice and cleansing the body, massage the body with warm oil. Sesame oil is good all year round if you prefer it. Remember it is still good to perspire once a day and in the winter it is good to add a restorative pose to a daily practice and a restorative practice to a weekly routine.”
How to help a loved one that is suffering from seasonal depression
“I am assuming that, if you know that the loved one is suffering from seasonal depression, you are able to discuss their issue with them. If that is the case, I would recommend that you refer them to a professional who can help them to determine the cause of their seasonal depression. The professional could then help the person to implement one or more forms of treatment to address their issue. I would recommend that the person first meet with their family doctor who may then recommend that the person meet with a mental health professional such as a psychologist. If seasonal depression has been determined to be caused by the person not engaging in activities such as physical exercise and social connections as often during the winter months, they could plan with their therapist ways to get these activities more into their routines by overcoming challenges in doing so. For example, although it may be easier to exercise in the warmer months by going outside to run, bike or roller blade, with some planning there can be identified alternative indoor workouts at home or at a nearby gym. And although it may be more challenging to meet people in person for coffee or other activities during the winter, alternatives such as phone calls, video chats, emails and text messages can help fill the social connection void when the weather is too inclement to venture outside.”
What relaxation techniques can help to cope with the winter blues?
- “Light therapy: It should come as no surprise that treatment for the winter blues entails bringing more sunshine into your life. Get outside as often as possible during the winter if you’re feeling down, especially on sunny days. A window seat can be beneficial as well. You might be tempted to book a bright vacation to get away from the gloomy winter days. Some SAD patients have found this helpful, but others have discovered that their condition worsens when they return to the UK. To treat SAD, light therapy is frequently employed. This requires sitting in front of or underneath a light box that emits intense light.
- Evidence-based mindfulness practices can be used to treat “blues” symptoms. Focusing less on upsetting thoughts and feelings helps control mood swings and increase overall well-being. Books, websites, and smartphone apps are just a few resources available for learning and practicing mindfulness. Numerous websites offer guided audio exercises for deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery, which are free to access. Stop, Breathe Think, and Insight Timer are a few of the most popular apps. Everyone can find something that suits them because there is a good range of options. Try this beneficial breathing practice to help you relax or fall asleep during the day:
- Balloon breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing: Inhale for four seconds, trying to get as much oxygen as you can into your stomach. It will grow inside of you like a balloon. Continually expand for one second. Empty your stomach as much as you can with a four-second exhale. Like a balloon deflating, your stomach will do so. Keep your breath out for one second. Repeat this procedure three to five times to feel the full benefits of relaxing.“
To effectively combat the winter blues, it is essential to integrate various strategies that focus on both physical and mental well-being. Embracing natural light, maintaining a consistent exercise routine, eating a balanced diet, and keeping up with social connections are key steps in alleviating the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and other mood challenges associated with the colder months. It’s equally important to recognize when it’s time to seek professional assistance. Overcoming winter blues is definitely achievable. By employing these strategies and maintaining a positive outlook, one can not only navigate through the challenges of winter but also discover joy and satisfaction during this time. Remember, each day brings us closer to the warmth and renewal of spring.