Brighten your Winter Blues with these 9 Strategies

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This year, the Northeast has truly experienced w-i-n-t-e-r. In fact, Boston, Massachusetts has endured a total of 95.7 inches (that’s almost 8 feet!) of snow during the 2014-2015 winter season. Needless to say, there are a lot of folks are cooped up inside.

For some, the winter months mean refreshing days in the bright snow and cozy, warm evenings by the fire. However for others, the winter can feel pretty cold and get pretty old, pretty quickly. In fact, about 1 out of every 16 Americans (6%) live with Seasonal Affective Disorder, and 1 out of every 7 Americans (14%) live with the “winter blues.” Seasonal Affective Disorder is a medical condition in which an individual exhibits symptoms of depression during a specific season each year. Some people find that they have slight seasonal mood changes, which are not classified as depression. These mood changes have been dubbed the “winter blues.”

Before I really delve into this post, please take special note: this post is NOT meant to substitute medical advice. 1 If you think you might be experiencing the winter blues, seasonal affective disorder, or any other type of health issue, please contact your health care provider! It is so important to connect with an expert that can help you with your individual needs.

For those of you who need little a seasonal boost of happiness, this post is for you! Here are nine strategies you might use to find more happiness this winter:

1. Get Going

Have you ever heard of a “runners high?” Let me tell you: it’s real. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins not only lessen your perception of pain, but they also act as a calming mechanism. A great reason to exercise daily, huh? And, exercise can have long-term positive effects on your mental health. A study published in Preventive Medicine showed that a 12-week exercise program had a positive impact on the mental health of participants 1 entire year after the exercise program was complete 2

The US Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that healthy adults exercise moderately for 2.5 hours per week. That’s about 30 minutes of physical activity (walking, jogging, strength training, dancing) for 5 days per week.

2. Get Balanced

One key happiness is feeling fulfillment in everyday life. One way to achieve fulfillment is to determine (and prioritize) what matters most to us. When I think of the word balance, I picture a tightrope walker hundreds of feet in the air, intently focused on adjusting her every move to strategically maintain balance. Similarly, a balanced life requires intention, strategy, focus, and adjustment. You have 168 hours in your week: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. What will you do with that time? Check out this example of a better-balanced week.


3. Get Goal Setting

Looking forward to the future is one way to boost your mood. One way to do this is set a goal for yourself. Working toward a goal gives you a sense of purpose, and might motivate you during your downtime. Not sure how to set a goal? Check out my post on SMART Goals.

4. Get Outside

Getting sunlight not only brightens your day, it also is linked with mood. One study found that folks who avoided the sun were also more likely to feel depressed. So, one way to get more sunlight is to take breaks during the day and get outside—even for a few minutes. And remember, getting up (and outside) early can make you feel more balanced. So, to help you with those dark winter mornings, you might want to consider a sun lamp or a light box. I use the HappyLight Energy Lamp to kick off my mornings when I feel especially groggy.

Another way to benefit of getting outside is the vitamin D your body produces when your skin is exposed to enough sunlight. Vitamin D has been found to help your body make strong bones and has been linked to immune function 3. And, some studies have suggested a link between low vitamin D levels and depression. 4 However, in the winter (in some regions) your skin might not be exposed to enough sunlight to make a sufficient amount of vitamin D. So, you might get your vitamin D in foods like fish, eggs and fortified milk. If food isn’t enough, taking a supplement might be helpful.

5. Get Gratitude

In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about the value of serving your community as a part of being effective. He categorizes the action of service within his seventh habit: “Sharpen the Saw.” Pointing out that “a long, healthy, and happy life is the result of making contributions.” It is so important not only to reflect on what matters to you, but also to feel grateful for it. One way to practice this is through daily meditation and mindfulness.


6. Get Rest

Sleeping enough (but not too much) makes us feel balanced, productive, and opens the door to creativity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults get 7-8 hours of sleep, teens get 9-10 hours, and school-aged children get at least 10 hours. It’s also important that we get restful sleep. Check out my post on re-energizing rest to learn more.

7. Get Serving

The wise Mark Twain once said: “the best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer somebody else up.” In fact, studies have shown 5 that helping others boosts happiness. And according to HelpGuide, community service is a great contributor to building social ties by meeting new friends, experiencing new social interactions (that develops social skills), and growing your network. Try looking outward instead of inward to feel good by serving your community.


8. Get Eating

One way to feel good is to welcome good things into your body. Eating and drinking healthfully can have a big impact on your mood. In fact, research shows a link between healthy food and mood. An Australian study found a link between poor diet and depression in adolescents 6.

Fill your plate with balanced portions of (naturally) colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy (or dairy substitute), and plant-based or lean protein. Check out my Nutrition Philosophy post to learn more.

9. Get Support

Whether they be with family, friends, or romantic partners, relationships matter. Feeling supported in your every day activities makes us happier. And, I can’t emphasize it enough. Connecting with your Healthcare Provider will give you the tools for your individual needs. This is an important part of your support system!

What are some ways you brighten up a your winter? Let us know with a comment!

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  1. The contents of this post are for informational purposes only. Nothing contained in this post is, or should be considered, or used as a substitute for professional medical and health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never disregard medical advice from your doctor or other qualified health care provider or delay seeking it because of something you have read on the Internet. Seek the advice of a qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical or other health condition. In case of emergency, please call your health care provider or 911 immediately. The information contained on or provided through this message is provided on an “as is” basis, without any warranty, express or implied. Any access to this post is voluntary and at your own risk.
  2. PELUSO, Marco Aurélio Monteiro and ANDRADE, Laura Helena Silveira Guerra de. Physical activity and mental health: the association between exercise and mood. Clinics [online]. 2005, vol.60, n.1 [cited 2015-02-16], pp. 61-70 . Available from: .
  3. Aranow C. Vitamin D and the Immune System. Journal of investigative medicine : the official publication of the American Federation for Clinical Research 2011;59(6):881-886.
  4. Y Milaneschi, W Hoogendijk, P Lips, A C Heijboer, R Schoevers, A M van Hemert, A T F Beekman, J H Smit and B W J H Penninx.The association between low vitamin D and depressive disorders. Molecular Psychiatry 19, 444-451 (April 2014)
  5. When helping helps: Autonomous motivation for prosocial behavior and its influence on well-being for the helper and recipient. Weinstein, Netta; Ryan, Richard M. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 98(2), Feb 2010, 222-244.
  6. Jacka FN1, Kremer PJ, Leslie ER, Berk M, Patton GC, Toumbourou JW, Williams JW. Associations between diet quality and depressed mood in adolescents: results from the Australian Healthy Neighbourhoods Study. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2010 May;44(5):435-42.