How to Prevent Winter Blues

Winter woes, begone
If your smile seems to be drooping along with the temps, it’s probably not your imagination. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a reaction to reduced sunlight, affects up to 20% of Americans—and three quarters of those affected are women. Lethargy, overeating, and being bummed can spell disaster for your health, but you can beat it. Here’s how.

Take a sunny stroll
Go walking in a winter wonderland! Sunlight-drenched strolls help clear your SAD symptoms by giving you a boost of vitamin D, which most of our bodies are craving (especially in gray weather.) D deficiency has also been linked to an increase in headaches in the fall and winter, say researchers in a Journal of Headache and Pain study.

Shed some light
The dark gloom of winter dampens your body’s production of serotonin, a mood-regulating neurotransmitter. Rejuvenate with a light box that features blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs) with a peak wavelength of 470 nm. They’re more stimulating and produce less glare than white light boxes. For a simpler fix, open up the blinds!

Burn calories for warmth
We know it’s tempting, but resist the urge to hibernate until spring. A study from Vanderbilt University Medical Center found that women moved the least in December, January, and February, burning 10% fewer calories than they do in summer. Push yourself to get some exercise—your heart and head will thank you.

Do a weird workout
Combine the benefits of light and exercise with a new workout called “Lighten Up”, specifically designed to cause winter cheer. These classes, offered at New York Sports Club in select cities, combine high-intensity intervals with light therapy meditations for seriously happy oms. If you’re not a member, train outside in the morning or with a light box for the same effect.

Pump up your produce
The secret to happiness may be at the end of your fork. People who ate the most fruits and veggies were less likely to be anxious, depressed, and show signs of other mental disorders, according to a study of 80,000 people. The more produce people ate, the happier they were.

Consider chamomile
If your mood needs to be soothed, consider a chamomile supplement. A University of Pennsylvania study found that chamomile supplements significantly eased anxiety symptoms. Ask your doc if you should try ’em.

Try a festive hobby
Get excited about winter by taking up a seasonal hobby (like these calorie-burning winter sports!), says psychologist Elizabeth R. Lombardo, PhD, author of the book A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. Having something fun to look forward to will help elevate your mood.

Lend a helping hand
Look for volunteer opportunities where you can make a difference, suggests Dr. Lombardo. Collect coats for the homeless, conduct a toy drive for needy children, or spend time volunteering at an animal shelter during the holiday rush. “Helping others helps you,” she says.

SAD-proof your surroundings
You may not be able to control the weather around you, but you can control your own environment, says psychotherapist and wellness expert Jenny Giblin, MFT. Simple switches like painting the walls a brighter or lighter color, buying colorful office supplies, hanging cheerful or inspiring artwork, and changing the background of your computer to a beachy scene can keep your spirits up.