3 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues: Make the Most of the Season

If you’re among the 10 to 20 percent of the population who feels lethargic, sad or tired during the darker days of winter, here’s some good news. Yelena Chernyak, PhD, CBSM, HSPP, a clinical psychologist at Indiana University Health, has three powerful ways to beat the winter blues, as well as helpful tips for staying motivated.

Squeeze in More Exercise

“A walk around the neighborhood or some other moderate, regular exercise will do it,” she says. This could mean walking instead of driving when doing errands, or, if you must drive, parking farther away from the store.

Exercising with a partner can also help. “Working out with a friend kills two birds with one stone,” Dr. Chernyak explains. “First, you’re socializing, which is a natural mood booster. Second, you’re exercising, which also boosts moods.” Snowed in? Consider indoor options, like power walking around the mall.

If you’re still feeling sluggish after incorporating more exercise into your daily life, talk to your doctor about having your Vitamin D level checked. You might need a supplement to reduce the production of sleep-inducing melatonin, she says.

Eat Healthy

Sure, it’s tempting to indulge in decadent treats, but try to curb nonstop winter noshing and overeating at holiday parties. Hors d’oeuvres and sugary treats are a quick way to satisfy cravings, but they provide little nutritional value or long-lasting energy. Instead, stock your refrigerator with healthy grab-and-go options like fresh-cut veggies, fruits, hummus and cheese, so by the time you’re hungry, they’re readily available, suggests Dr. Chernyak.

Also, before hitting up your next party, try eating your meal at home so you’re less tempted to seek out junk food when you’re out. If that’s not possible, make a point to eat healthy foods first at the event before rewarding yourself with a small treat.

Get Out and About

Finding the motivation to get up and get moving can be tough when it’s cold outside, but the payoff is worth the effort, Dr. Chernyak says. “Being active gets your mind off yourself and leaves less time for ruminating,” she explains. “Plus, getting out increases your exposure to sunlight,” which may help boost your mood. If you’re a late riser, try getting up and outside earlier to take advantage of the morning sunlight.

It’s especially important to find meaningful things to do in January and February, when the hustle and bustle of the holidays is over. Start by volunteering or taking a class—and have a friend or family member join you. “Be sure to include a default plan if you cannot or don’t feel like doing that particular activity,” advises Dr. Chernyak. But also be flexible with yourself, she adds. “Don’t let things like bad weather or changes in plans stress you,” she says.

Winter Blues—or Worse?

For 4 to 6 percent of the population, the winter blues turn into Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression that occurs during the same season each year. Consult your doctor if you experience the following early warning signs:

  • You’re not enjoying things that you used to find enjoyable.
  • You’re having a lot of negative thoughts about yourself.
  • You think this will never end; there’s nothing to look forward to.
  • You have thoughts of hurting yourself.
  • You experience unusual sleep disturbances—lots more or lots less sleep.
  • You have extreme weight losses or gains.

-- By Bonnie Vengrow

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