Let’s be honest: There’s nothing fun about the holidays being over. The days off from work are done, the parties are finito, and winter really starts to kick in, resulting in darker days and longer nights, which can often make for a rough transition for some people. The onset of winter can also cause Seasonal Affective Disorder—or SAD—to kick in, a very real condition that affects more than 10 million Americans (75 percent of which are women.)
According to research, where you live plays a big role in how you deal with darker days—East Coasters, for example, are way more likely to be affected by SAD than folks who live in sunnier climes like Florida, California, or Arizona, and are more at risk for things like depression, social withdrawal, lethargy, and anxiety once it stars to get darker earlier.
Why? It mostly has to do with the fact that when we detect darkness, a small gland in our brain called the pineal releases melatonin, which is responsible for our sleep cycles, so our bodies are being forced to be awake when the brain thinks it should be asleep.
When we detect light, conversely, our melatonin levels wane and serotonin takes over, which is a natural mood elevator.
Even if you don’t suffer from from full-on SAD symptoms—which can be treated with the use of light boxes that mimic outdoor light and can cause a chemical shift in our brains that lifts our moods—you’ve probably felt down at some point or another throughout the winter. Here, we’ve highlighted how to be happy during the bleak winter months by laying out 7 ways to naturally boost your mood.
1. Make time to move.
It may seem intuitive, but exercise really does boost your mood and your energy levels. According to the Mayo Clinic, even a short workout at the gym or a brisk walk can do the trick, as physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that usually leaves you feeling happier and more relaxed. Winter workouts also can make you feel better about your appearance, which in turn, boosts confidence.
Not really a gym person? Make it a point to walk for 30 minutes on your way home from work, around your block, or around a park. On weekends, Recruit a friend, a sibling, or your boyfriend/girlfriend to make it fun.
2. Eat whole foods
Yeah, you always hear about the benefits of eating clean, and shunning things like processed and sugary foods, white flour, and artificial sweeteners, but it’s extra-true this time of year. Processed foods and sugar have been proven to cause inflammation and drops in mood and energy.
Instead, it’s key to eat plenty of leafy greens, lean protein, good fats, and complex carbs, as these macronutrients help keep our blood sugar levels in check, according to MindBodyGreen. When they plummet, so does our mood! Good fats like olive oil, avocado, even a little dark chocolate, as well as complex carbs like whole grains and brown rice also help to create feel-good serotonin.
3. Cook dinner on weeknights.
For those of us who get winter blues, weekday nights can be an especially difficult time. You’re done with work, and a long night stretches ahead. One way to fill it? Cook dinner! Ordering in night after night can be depressing, so make it a point to head to the supermarket after work a few nights a week, and make your own dinner. Put on music, relax, and just enjoy it.
4. Keep drinking (water, people.)
Dehydration has been shown to cause agitation, fatigue, and general unpleasantness, so keep a large bottle of water at your desk and sip throughout the day. If you’re freezing and craving something hot, drink green tea, which is packed with antioxidants due to its high content of flavonoids.
Conversely, don’t drink too much booze: While a glass or two of wine may actually help you relax occasionally and can have some health benefits, too much alcohol has been proven to be a serious-mood buster. Plus, morning hangovers will not help you feel great about the day ahead.
5. Smell an orange.
Several studies have found that the scent of oranges can reduce stress and improve mood. Try eating a fresh orange for breakfast every morning (and inhaling its scent), or dab some orange oil on your wrists a few times a week.
6. Make your home a place you want to be.
Yes, the prospect of facing a long cold night can be stressful, but not if your home is truly a place you want to be. Spending a little time and money tweaking your crib to make it feel more comfortable is key, and small things can can make a huge difference. Like what? For starters, try swapping out the lighting—replace all gloomy yellow-casting bulbs with those that emit white light (they’re the same price) or try “full spectrum” bulbs, which mimic natural light.
All-white walls can be depressing, and paint is the cheapest way to completely change your space, so why not find a shade you love and spend the weekend redoing your walls? From there, add a couple of new rugs, hang things on the wall, and decorate your desk, coffee table, or bedside table with fresh flowers and a stack of cool books.
Don’t be afraid to make plans—whether it be a girl’s night out, tickets to a concert, a weekend getaway, a blind date, a ski trip, or even just a shopping outing with your mom and sister—keep your winter calendar packed with realistic things you like doing.
Always wanted to take a writing/dance/acting/science class? Now’s the time to do it! You’ll meet new people, have assignments to complete, and have somewhere to go regularly.
Similarly, if you’re single and on the fence about joining Tinder, Match, or any other dating site, why not try it out now? At best, you’ll meet some nice people with romantic potential, at worst, you’ll have some classic dating stories that’ll make you laugh.