7 Ways to Combat the Winter Blues

Cherub garden statue looking forlorned, sitting in a snowy woods

Winter has always been my least favorite season.  I do not enjoy being cold, and the short days and darkness really get to me.  I tend to want to hibernate in the winter — I stay inside, sleep more, exercise less, feel less motivated, and don’t make as much of an effort to socialize.  While a seasonal change of pace isn’t inherently bad, all of these things can lead to a general feeling of blah-ness.  Over the past few weeks, the cold, gray weather has set in here, so I thought it would be a good time to talk about the ways in which I try to make winter a little more bearable.  

  1. Light therapy.  After years of considering it, I finally broke down and bought one of these little blue light devices last year.  I turn it on in the morning while I write (I’m sitting in front of it right now).  Anecdotally, it does seem to give me a little more energy.
  2. Vitamin D supplements.  Sun exposure prompts our bodies to make Vitamin D, an important nutrient that’s difficult to obtain from dietary sources.  The vast majority of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D, and our levels are lowest in the winter, when we don’t spend much time in the sunlight.  Vitamin D deficiency can contribute to winter depression and a host of other health problems.  Last March, a blood test revealed that my Vitamin D level was low, and I’ve been taking supplements since then.  My healthcare provider told me that it would take a month or so of supplementation for my serum Vitamin D level to rise to where it should be, so don’t expect instant results if you start taking supplements.  Also note that Vitamin D3 is more easily absorbed by the body than Vitamin D2, and the amount of Vitamin D in your daily multi-vitamin might not be enough for you.  My doctor advised me to take nearly five times the amount that my daily multivitamin contained.  (An obvious disclaimer here: I’m not a doctor.  You should consult your doctor for medical advice.)
  3. Get outside.  Light boxes and Vitamin D supplements are no substitute for natural light.  It’s dark when I wake up in the morning and it’s nearly dark when I leave work in the evening, so exposing myself to sunlight during the week can be a real challenge.  I look for opportunities to run mid-day errands or go for lunch time walks when I can, though that isn’t always practical.  But I commit to taking at least one long walk outside each weekend — two if the weather and my schedule permit it.  The brisk air and daylight are energizing, and going for a walk in the park or around my neighborhood provides a good opportunity to get out of my house and interact with my neighbors.
  4. Exercise inside if necessary.  When the weather isn’t nice enough for an outside walk, I go to the gym and exercise there instead.  Exercise helps to fight depression and boost energy, and for me, interacting with the other people at the gym can be a mood-booster as well.
  5. Create a cozy environment.  When I have to spend a lot of time inside, I want my surroundings to feel cozy and pleasant.  Lately, I’ve been using warm, dim lighting in the evenings, lighting candles for ambiance and aromatherapy, and playing music.  These touches make my house feel less cold and wintry and more like a peaceful retreat.
  6. Socialize.  As I noted above, I can be a little bit of a hermit in the winter.  I try to actively resist that urge by accepting invitations, hosting occasional gatherings, and calling long-distance friends.  A good conversation with a friend is practically guaranteed to energize me and make me feel happier on a gloomy day.
  7. Stay warm!  We try to save energy and money by not heating our house to high temperatures, but I find that simply being cold can negatively affect my mood.  Lately, I’ve been wearing lots of layers, drinking tea, and making use of space heaters and blankets to stay as warm and cozy as possible without overheating the whole house.  The tea drinking, blankets, and layers are handy in my often-chilly office as well.  And when I go outside, I don’t skimp on the gloves, scarves, and hats.  The weather may be cold, but there’s no reason I have to be!

What steps do you take to make winter more bearable?  For those who love winter, what do you love about it?

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