4 Science-Based Ways to Beat the Winter Blues
Feeling down this winter? Check out easy ways to boost your mood naturally.
Winter is a season to decompress, relax and do more activities inside. However, we also need to be able to have energy to tend to our responsibilities like work, taking kids to meetings and other life events.
Some people get the 'winter blues,' but about 10 to 20% of the population is impacted by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression that is related to the change in seasons. Researchers believe that SAD may be caused by shorter daylight exposure, changes in serotonin and melotonin levels and alteration in Circadian rhythm.1 Symptoms of SAD can include depression, low energy, changes in weight or appetite, feeling sluggish or agitated, or experiencing problems with sleeping.
There are various treatments for SAD including medication, light therapy, talk therapy and mind-body practices, such as meditation or yoga. Seek medical attention if you are experiencing these symptoms. As a complementary approach for general health and mental wellness, there are many tools that you can implement to boost your mood naturally.
Here are 4 science-based strategies to boost your mood:
1. Host a game night and laugh it out. Spending time with friends and family in a fun, interactive way can boost your mood. Dig out the Scrabble board, Speak Out or a funny game, like Cards Against Humanity. I guarantee you will be laughing in no time. Studies have shown that laughter boosts immunity, improves mental health, strengthens relationships and lowers stress hormones among other health benefits.2
2. Get moving. A 2005 study from Harvard University 3 suggests walking fast for about 35 minutes a day, 5 times a week or 60 minutes a day, three times a week to improve symptoms of mild to moderate depression. If you can not walk outside due to poor weather conditions, hop on a treadmill at a local YMCA or gym. Any activity that gets you moving is beneficial.
3. Clean up your diet. Eating sugar or candy will provide a temporary sense of euphoria but will wreak havock on your blood sugar levels and waistline. Food does affect your mood. In fact, researchers Wurtman and Wurtman developed a theory suggesting that a diet rich in carbohydrates can relieve depression and elevate mood in disorders such as carbohydrate craving obesity, premenstrual syndrome, and SAD.4 One reason might be that the feel good neurotransmitter serotonin increases in response to carbohydrates. Instead of grabbing a candy bar, reach for protein like Greek yogurt or cottage cheese or complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and oatmeal to boost your mood and keep your weight under control.
4. Turn up the tunes. A 2013 study5 showed that listening to upbeat music can improve mood. In the study, participants were instructed to try to improve their mood, but they only succeeded when they listened to upbeat music, as opposed to more sad tunes. The participants listened to the music for 12 minutes and reported a subjective increase in happiness after listening. Turn on your favorite upbeat music and reap the benefits of feeling happier.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder. Mayo Clinic. www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651. Accessed January 29, 2018.
- Laughter is the Best Medicine: The Health Benefits of Humor and Laughter. HelpGuide.org. www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm. Accessed January 29, 2018.
- Exercise is an all-natural treatment to fight depression. Harvard Health Letter. August 2013. www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-is-an-all-natural-treatment-to-fight-depression. Accessed January 29, 2018.
- Benon D. & Donohoe, RT. 1999. The effects of nutrients on mood. Public Heath Nutrition, 2(3A): 403-9.
- Ferguson, Yuna. Trying to be Happier Works When Listening to Upbeat Music, According to MU Research. News Bureau of the University of Missouri. May 14, 2013. http://munews.missouri.edu/news-releases/2013/0514-trying-to-be-happier-works-when-listening-to-upbeat-music-according-to-mu-research/. Accessed January 29, 2018.