Beating the Blues

Don't Let the Winter Doldrums Get You Down

Victoria Rose, Writer
Reading Time: 4 minutes
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running in snow

Winter brings less sunlight and colder weather. Many people spend more time indoors and less time with others, which can contribute to the winter blues.

The condition is more common than you might think. You may have a touch of it yourself. Have you felt a lack of motivation or low-energy levels?

If so, you’re not alone. While we can't do anything about the time change or the weather, we can take steps to shake off the winter doldrums. Here are five suggestions for improving your mood this season. (Note: These recommendations, however, are not a substitute for medical advice. If you feel that your condition is more serious, contact your doctor.)

Vitamin D

Winter days are shorter and many people who work in offices can go a whole day without seeing sunlight. No wonder they’re in a slump.

Soaking up sunlight provides Vitamin D, which releases serotonin in the brain — the chemical associated with happiness. When we don’t get enough sun, serotonin levels can decrease and lead to the winter blues.

Some ways to catch more rays include keeping your window shades up in the office to let the light in, sitting next to a window in restaurants, rolling down your window in the car or even taking a brisk lunchtime walk outside, if weather permits.

Your Diet

While avoiding unhealthy foods may seem obvious, science has found that specific foods can have mood-boosting properties.

If you live in a cold, snowy region and can’t enjoy regular sunlight, consider getting your vitamin D through food. Mussels, wild salmon and other fatty fish are not only rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, but also vitamins D and B12. Two servings of fish a week can help boost your mood when the days are short and dark. Other foods that can kickstart your mood are dark chocolate, saffron, Swiss chard and bananas.

Likewise, some foods have the opposite effect, causing the winter blues to get worse. Foods high in sugar or artificial sweeteners, processed foods, soft drinks and greasy, high-fat fast foods are all guilty of putting a damper on your mood.

Stay Active

The shorter, colder days of winter can easily sap your motivation. One sure-fire way to stay positive is to stay active.

Exercise promotes blood flow and ultimately helps rid the body of toxins that can weigh you down. Thirty to 60 minutes of daily exercise has been proven to increase energy levels and produce endorphins, leading to mood enhancement.

If the weather outside is frightful, you still have plenty of options to keep from getting too cozy on the couch. Lifting weights or running on a treadmill are great ways to work up a sweat, no matter what the temperature is outside.

Many people find that staying committed to an exercise regimen can be a dilemma. An excellent way to keep the momentum going is to have a workout buddy to keep you accountable.

Go Somewhere, Do Something

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” says Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University.

Spending money on experiences rather than material objects is more likely to bring a higher level of overall happiness. Just the act of planning a vacation can boost your mood for weeks leading up to the actual trip. Whether you’re looking forward to a quick “staycation” or an international adventure, a change of scenery can lift your spirits and breathe life into your everyday routine.

Studies show that people planning or anticipating a trip feel happier than those who don't have an excursion on the horizon. If you can’t get away, you still have options. Go to a local concert, try a new activity or sport, or learn a new skill.


Volunteering or helping others confers an infinite number of health benefits, both physical and mental. Doing good deeds helps build a connection between yourself and your community, ultimately providing a stronger sense of purpose.

We’re hard wired to want to help people who are in need and researchers have found that our brains produce a “feel-good” hormone when we do. Committing to a shared activity is a great way to strengthen existing relationships and make new ones.

Want to get started with a cause that means something to you? Volunteer Match is a great tool for finding something in your area.

Positive Mind, Positive Life

Even though this time of year can be gloomy, we have many ways to combat the winter doldrums. Do you have any secrets to winter happiness that we didn't list? Share your secrets with us on Facebook or Twitter!