After being raised in the Middle East for 5 years where winter doesn’t really exist, my return to Canadian seasons was quite a shocker. I don’t cope well with cold, and during my years of living in Waterloo, ON which is right in the middle of a snow belt, I struggled with keeping my spirits up in the chilly months. As I’m sure is the case for many of us now, it felt like every time I left the house, it was dark and either snowing, frigidly cold, or both. When I announced to my mum that I was moving to Vancouver, she said “You know it rains, like, all the time there, right? As in, you might have no sun for days?”
It turns out that the west coast winter hasn’t been as gray and unbearably depressing as one might have anticipated. However, I strongly believe it’s because of a few small but strategic daily actions that my mood stays elevated and my energy stays where I like it. If you’re feeling a little blah these days – or perhaps experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder as I believe I occasionally do – here are 6 ways to beat the winter blues. These are all things I’ve tried and truly find to be helpful.
1. Call your bestie
Or your sister. Or your mom. Or anyone else for that matter. Connection with other people is great for our mental health and it probably comes as no surprise that people with stronger social ties report being happier, have fewer health issues and live longer.
I’m quite introverted, so it’s really easy for me to default to spending a lot of time on my own. But with that said, there’s no denying how energized I feel after a great conversation with a friend or a lunchtime walk with a co-worker. My best tip for making this happen is to schedule it, even if it’s just a phone call. It never feels good to bail on a friend (ie more incentive to stay committed), and if you can, get together face to face. It sound so silly, but this exponentially increases the happy vibes. And no, I don’t have a study to link you to on quantifying happy vibes, so my personal anecdotal evidence will have to do. Trust me on this one!
2. Sweat regularly
You guys know I’m an advocate for this at all times of year, but especially in the winter. Sweating is hands-down my favourite way to keep the winter blues away because there are tons of ways to work out – many of which are free! It’s been scientifically proven that exercise helps to beat depression, and for an even bigger boost, I like to combine this tip with the one above. Working out with other people, whether they’re friends or complete strangers in a yoga class, can help make the workout a more enjoyable, shared experience.
3. Get outside
Of all the people you know in real life and online, I can almost guarantee that I’m among the top 5% who hate the cold the most. Seriously, I can’t stand it. BUT…. Getting outside means exposure to natural light, and even if those hours are few and far between each day, every little bit helps.
Admittedly, my dislike for cold weather means I don’t voluntarily head out for many wintery walks or partake in a ton of winter sports. So instead, I like to opt for my next tip….
4. Try light therapy
You’ve probably heard about this before, and it’s one of those things that has been recommend to me a lot. I’m not sure why I’ve waited so long to try it, but these days I’ve been doing some experimentation with the Philips goLITE BLU which was sent to me a couple of weeks ago.
The logic behind lights like this lies in the fact that during the darker winter months, we’re exposed to less natural light. This affects our circadian rhythms, which influence a whole bunch of processes inside our bodies, including our sleep-wake cycles, hormones, and when we feel sleepy vs energized. As I’m sure you’ve experienced, exposure to light can help provide a boost of energy. On the flip side, exposure to minimal light can leave us feeling sluggish, tired, depressed, and generally just crappy. (Just ask any Vancouverite who had to put up with 30+ consecutive days of rain this fall how much of a difference it makes!)
Blue light devices simulate natural light by stimulating our retinas (one in each eye), which connect to the hypothalamus in the brain. The hypothalamus regulates circadian rhythms, so by sitting in front of a blue light for 30-60 minutes, you’re sort of ‘tricking’ the body into thinking it’s getting natural light exposure.
Light therapy is a common recommendation for helping to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and ideally it’s used first thing in the morning upon waking, just as you’d normally experience sunlight when you get out of bed in the summer.
I’ve been sitting in front of my Philips goLITE BLU each morning for 20-30 mins, usually while I’m eating breakfast and reading before heading to work. it’s too early to say for sure, but I do think its helping to keep my energy and mood more stable through the day. Stay tuned for a more complete review in about a month!
5. Eat grounding, warm foods
I’ve talked about Ayurveda a bit in the past, but to recap, during the winter (considered ‘vata’, or a dry season), our bodies naturally crave more dense, grounding and hearty foods. It makes sense if you think about it – instinctually, we need to stay insulated to protect our organs and stay alive. That’s not nearly as big of a challenge for us today as it was for our ancestors, but adjusting to a diet of cooked foods, more protein, fat, fibre (think complex carbs) and root vegetables (carrots, squash, beets etc) can help to keep mood boosted and digestion humming along. For more deets, check out this article.
6. Laugh (at least) once a day
This might sound silly, but when is laughing not a fun thing to do?? Laughing is believed to reduce stress hormones, and even if the science isn’t 100% rock solid yet, I can say without a doubt that a day with laughter makes me a far better, happier person than one without! I like starting my mornings by watching Ellen on Youtube while I’m getting ready for work, but do whatever works for you. Hilarious podcasts, Carpool Karaoke episodes, watching a little bit of pointless TV, joking around with a friend – whatever cracks you up. Speaking of which…
Can’t see the video? Click here.
Finally, if you want more ideas to try, here are a few of the things that I love:
- Paint your nails (or get someone else to paint them!)
- Get a massage
- Take a nap
- Eat some dark chocolate. It contains natural compounds that trigger the release of neurotransmitters in our brains, including serotonin and dopamine. My faves are Vega maca chocolate, Theo Pure 85%, and Giddy Yoyo Vanilla Salt 82% Dark Chocolate.
- Put flowers in your house. The ones in the photo at the very top of this post are my faves, gerbera daisies, and through the winter I make a point of having a nice bright vase of flowers on my dining room table each week. Some might see it as indulgent and a silly use of money, but it really does make me happy!
Now I’d love to hear from you: Let’s hear your best advice for combatting the winter blues. Annnnd GO!