Surviving winter blues

Surviving winter blues

This time of year when its cold and dark, can be a real downer for me. While not knocking me out completely, it is a slow-churn of a bummer that comes on seasonally, and peaks right about the end of February, when I will spend the afternoon in my local garden center just to look at flowers and greenery. I need to learn how to survive the winter blues, and maybe you do as well.

The cascade of endorphins that comes with outdoor walking, gardening and beaching, are missing now, and the lack of sun (= Vitamin D) just erodes my desire to do anything.  

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects one-fifth of Americans, thanks to the shorter daylight hours and frequent icy, snowy weather. School gets cancelled, plans get postponed, and forget doing almost any outdoor activities unless you like the bone-chilling temps. We experience long winters here in New York, so it’s important to be mindful of what we can do to avoid those cravings of simple carbs, sugar, wine, and way too much TV. What ultimately follows is fatigue and moodiness.  

Luckily, there are ways to combat SAD. Here are 4 tips to help: 

1. Vitamin Therapy

Now is a good time to have your vitamin D tested, as vitamin D deficiencies are linked to depression, especially in winter. Most docs recommend at least 1,000 IU’s of vitamin D2 or D3 in the winter months, daily, or more, if you are already experiencing winter depression. 

Keep in mind that D2 is plant-based and D3 is almost always animal-based. Research shows that vitamin D3 is more efficiently absorbed, so you may want to choose D3 to get the most out of your supplement. Up to you. 

Recently, vegan forms of D3 are being manufactured, and Vitashine and Garden of Life brands now make D3 supplements. I have not taken them so can’t speak to their effectiveness.

2. Follow the light

Make the most of the sunlight you get by soaking up the rays as soon as they come out. Sit by the window in the rays of the sun, or go outside as soon as morning hits to get a fresh start to the day. The sun will reset your body’s sleep cycle, driving out the melatonin that makes you sleepy. 

If you’re staying indoors until spring, try a light box. These consist of bright lights that mimic outdoor light, which is very helpful when the sun itself is in short supply. The light box should provide an exposure to 10,000 lux of light, and emit as little UV light as possible. 

Most research shows that using it when you get up in the morning for about a half hour, is usually sufficient to lift your mood and ease other symptoms of being winter weary.

Light boxes won’t replace natural sunlight, but they are safe and effective. Just be sure to do your research. I’ve had pretty good results with THIS one.

3. Stay Active (Outside)

It’s easy to let yourself get dragged into the doldrums brought on by winter weather. Combat this by going about your day as usual when the weather allows. If you allow yourself to get into a rut and stay inside all day in your pajamas, it will be harder to keep your mood up, and easier to fill up on simple carbs.

Fight the lack of serotonin by pumping endorphins into your system. Break a sweat with some exercise and keep moving; exercising provides a bump in your mood when endorphins flood your brain and give you a natural high.  Try taking a short brisk walk every morning as the sun rises to get a dose of natural vitamin D.  Bundle up and just do it. It may be cloudy, but the sun’s rays are peeping through, and you’ll reap the dopamine reward!

4. Up the Omegas

Those feel-good neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin, rely on Omega-3s to maintain healthy levels in the brain. They increase happiness and in doing so, the symptoms of depression are reduced.  Omega-3s are highly concentrated in the brain, and may help lower risks of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and arthritis.

These inflammation-reducing fatty acids are also important for cognitive and behavioral function, and so when your winter world seems weary, look to spinach, flaxseed, hemp, chia and walnuts. If you eat fish, wild salmon is a good choice as well. Click here for more info on how to include these essential fats into your day, along with some great recipes.

5. Eat Healthy

Let’s face it – hot cocoa is a necessity in the cold winter months. You don’t have to give it up. Just make some smart substitutes. Use almond milk instead of cow’s milk. Use unsweetened cocoa instead of chemical-filled powder. Sweeten with stevia and cinnamon.

Indulge in some green smoothies, soups and salads. Nothing as delicious as a thick, foggy pea soup with whole grain croutons on top.  Add some ginger to your green drink for a warm glow, add some dates and sunflower seeds to your morning oatmeal.  Here are some ideas to get you motivated.

March is around the corner. Hang in there! You’ve survived the winter blues, and pretty soon it will be spring. 



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16 thoughts on “Surviving winter blues”

  • Awesome article. I don’t have that problem. I live in Australia and have been suffering 4 months of 40 celcius (104 Farenheit).
    I can’t wait for Winter. Bring it on. I am sick of Vitamin D. I think Australia has given me a vitamin D overdose. LOL
    I with we had cold winters with snow. Looks so pretty. Dave

  • Wonderful, I’ve landed on just the right website. Winter is my weakness. I like hot seasons but not winter. My kids and I often fall ill during winter. So the information you have provided will be of great help to us. Need to bookmark it for future reference as well. Thank you for that great job my dear friend.
    Usiba (TheBuilder)

  • Hi Amy
    Thank you for posting such an interesting and informative article. I happened to be munching on some walnuts when I came across your post!
    I live in the north east of England – we are also very light deprived in the winters. I notice the short days really do affect my mood, not to mention the horrible cold temperatures. This winter I started to take regular supplements of vitamin D (not sure which one I am taking but it is vegetarian), I think it helps as I seem to have reasonable energy levels for the time of year. As my work is office bound this limits the time I can get out into the natural light, so it’s a struggle to get light exposure in the winters, I don’t have a light box, but I will look into this.
    I try to get some exercise every day even if it means a jog in the dark after work! I sometimes feel that the winters are a bit of a survival exercise and it is so easy to reach for that glass of wine or 2! But I agree we need to actively work on our ourselves to get through the winter months, and when the spring comes ….. I can’t wait!!
    I didn’t know that upping the omegas was so important, thanks for that advice. Fortunately I love spinach so I will gladly eat more spinach dishes! Thank you again for the great post.

  • Great post! Even where I am, in Oklahoma, we experience winters that just seem to hang on forever…

    I’d never considered a light box…thanks for that info! And a great tip that my hubby and I have discovered…avocado oil on our salad. Great source of omega 3 with a light taste.

    Can’t wait for spring! 😉

  • Really interesting article. I have struggled with this too being from Pennsylvania where winters are also long. It is nice to know what helps and thank you for the useful information!

  • Thank you for the great read! You described exactly how I feel now because I don’t like winter very much. I live in a warm country – Greece, but… winter is winter, especially if you live in a continental part of Greece.

    I liked your ideas and agree with you that during this period of time, we should be more active, take more care about what we eat and generally to try to eat food rich in vitamins. In spite my living in Greece, I have a lack of vitamin D and take a supplement on an everyday base. Weird, but, true.

    Thanks again,

  • As a devout “winter hater” I’m going to follow some of your tips to beat the winter blues. I can almost smell that pea soup cooking now!

  • Hi Amy,

    I don’t suffer from this disorder, but that doesn’t mean to say that I will in the future. Would there be a chance of that happening if I didn’t follow the advice here, or is it a genetic thing?

    It can be a bit depressing during the winter months but I try to keep active. Working in the garden, (when you can), is a good suggestion.

    I do need to eat more healthier, (all year round actually), so will try to keep to a healthy diet 🙂

    • Hi Owain — I don’t think it is genetic. I think that some of us hate cold weather and the restrictions it imposes on our lives. So we get depressed and tired. If you can work in the garden during the winter, that’s great — the ground is frozen here, and nothing is growing yet. Thanks for checking in…!

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