Woman feeling sad curled up in a ball with a frustrated thought bubble over head.

Feeling Low? Here Are Ways to Shake Off the Winter Blues

DTC Thrasio

- Circadian Optics Brand Team

The start of the winter is such an exciting period thanks to all the holiday parties and celebrations that come with it. But once the holiday season is over, so does the beauty and laughter that's often tied to that time of year. Some people are simply burned out from the holidays or end-of-the-year projects, while others seriously miss partying and also being close to loved ones. What's left is quietness, quite a bit of grayness, chilliness, and all the time in the world to allow in the winter blues. The mid-winter season also brings some of the coldest, darkest, and dreariest months of the year, making many people want to hibernate socially.

While nearly everyone goes through the winter blahs, some experience serious symptoms of depression in winter, as we're going to see later on. The good news is there are several solutions for beating the winter blues, starting with using a light therapy lamp to add more light to your life on a dark, cloudy day. Read on to learn more about the winter time blues, including causes, symptoms, tips to help depression, etc.

What is Winter Blues?

The winter season is characterized by shorter days and cold, dark weather. The overall mood is so gloomy that many struggle to maintain a happy, healthy mindset. It's common for people to start experiencing feelings of hopelessness, sadness, having less energy, and a lack of motivation that's difficult to shake. This is what we've learned to call winter blues.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Vs. Winter Blues

As you read about winter time blues, a common word you'll come across is Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This is a more extreme version of winter blues. It's also called winter depression, since the symptoms are usually more severe. SAD is characterized by a persistently low mood that can affect one's emotional well-being and even impair your performance at work, school, or even social relationships. Other symptoms of depression in the winter include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest in what you usually enjoy doing
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
  • Feelings of despair, worthlessness, pessimism, guilt, hopelessness, or having low self-esteem

Unlike winter blues, SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern, meaning it doesn't necessarily occur in winter; it could also happen in summer. Another difference is it's much easier to shake off the blues. SAD, on the other hand, may require treatment from a medical professional.

Reasons for Winter Blues

Experts don't fully understand what causes the winter blues, but have linked it to reduced or lack of sunlight.

Exposure to sunlight increases serotonin levels, one of the feel-good hormones that promote positive feelings like pleasure, happiness, and even love. On the other hand, darkness triggers the brain to make melatonin, which is also known as the sleep-inducing hormone. Since winter is characterized by dark, cloudy days, serotonin levels can dip while melatonin increases, resulting in low moods, sleepiness, lethargy, changes in appetite, etc.

Secondly, our bodies use sunlight to time various internal functions, such as when we wake up and go to sleep. This is known as the body's internal clock (circadian rhythm). Lower light levels during winter may disrupt this internal clock and lead to symptoms of depression caused by lack of sunlight.

Last but not least, we tend to be confined indoors during winter given the cold weather outside. Social isolation makes winter blues even worse as it increases the risk of stress, anxiety, substance abuse, and winter blues depression.

How to Fight the Winter Blues?

During the winter, the sun is further away and often seen through a gray layer of clouds. This lowers the light levels which, in turn, lowers the mood and energy boost we get from the sun. With shorter days and thinner sunlight, it's no surprise that many people experience something called Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is the winter blues by any other name.

So how can you shake off the winter blues and overcome that "Blah" feeling day after day? We've got a few great ideas to get you re-energized and ready to take on the new year.

1. Soak Up Some Sun

The best way to fight the winter blahs is to catch some sunshine. Seasonal affective disorder is primarily caused by a lack of natural sunlight, so catching a few rays is good for your body and your mind. Get your body producing Vitamin D. Let the sunshine warm your face and wash over your skin. Even if it's a little chilly outside, just walking in sunlight can make you feel better. Sunshine is a great way to shake off anxiety and depression.

Choose especially sunny days and the best time of day for strong sun. Then find yourself a sunbeam to bask in. Maybe there's a sunny picnic table during your lunch break, or perhaps your backyard catches sun at just the right time of day. Get your basking hours in to improve your overall winter outlook.

2. Get Your Body Moving

Exercise can make a big difference when it comes to the winter blues. Depression is not just a feeling, it's a physical state.  Your blood slows down, your heart rate slows, and your body gives you less energy to do your daily tasks. Exercise is a simple way to push your body, mood, and metabolism in the other direction. Shake off depression by literally shaking it out of your muscles.

Get your blood pumping and your body moving. Just a few squats or twists can really help loosen up not just your muscles, but also your mind. Turn up the lights in your house and play some of your favorite heavy music to dance around and motivate your at-home workouts. It doesn't take much. Just a few minutes of elevated heart rate and a reason to smile can transform winter blues into the daily energy you've been missing.

3. Eat Healthy, Energizing Foods

  • Oatmeal
  • Fresh Fruit
  • Fish and Lean Protein
  • Mixed Vegetables
  • Yogurt
  • Nuts and Legumes

The food we crave in the winter also, unfortunately, has a habit of weighing us down. Delicious lasagnas and casseroles are packed with heavy starch and cheese fats when what you really need is lean protein and a fibrous mix of vegetables. When you put the right fuel into the tank, your body will produce more energy from what you eat. Instead of eating things that make you feel sluggish and crave a nap, look for foods that make you feel more energized after eating, not less.

For example, a robust salad with egg and lunchmeat is packed with calories and energy. Many people find their morning transformed when they swap the morning croissant for a bowl of oatmeal.  Not sure where to start? Try blending yourself a daily smoothie of yogurt, fruit, and protein powder.

Healthy, energizing foods will give your body the fuel it needs to stay active this winter and fight winter depression.

4. Bask in a Light Box

When there's not enough sunlight to make you feel better, sometimes the best way to fight the winter blues is to bask in a light box. A light box simulates warm sunshine on your skin without having to go outside. When the sky is too cloudy or gray for weeks at a time, seasonal affective depression can get bad. A light box is the perfect solution to a Vitamin-D-Free season.

Instead of trying to catch a winter tan, spend 30 minutes in front of a lovely desk-mounted light box. Close your eyes and let your body feel the mental and emotional motivation of natural light. By simulating natural light, a light box can help your body simulate the neurotransmitters for happiness and energy.

5. Grow Yourself a Desk Plant

You're not the only thing that needs artificial sunshine to thrive during the winter. Many people find greenery to be soothing and uplifting inside the home. Home offices, especially, are seeing an increase in plant life because green plants make us happy. One of the best ways to make your winter environment more welcoming is to grow a plant of your own.

Get a desk succulent, a floating air plant, or a leafy potted plant for your home office and other vistas in your house. Provide artificial light and regular watering. When you pass by a basking plant, give it a pat. t needs artificial light as much or more than you do to thrive.

6. Go to Sleep at the Same Time Every Day

  • Choose a Daily Bed Time
  • Let Yourself Wind Down for Bed
  • Set a Sunrise Alarm Clock
  • Turn Up the Lights During the Day

You can also help shape your own circadian rhythm by forming a predictable daily pattern. Your body will try to work with you on when you need energy or sleep based on when you typically sleep. The best way to avoid feeling blah during your scheduled daytime is to go to sleep at the same time every day. Changing your schedule too much in the winter can also lead to a type of winter blues.

Set an absolute range for your bedtime. For example, between 9 and 11 PM, whenever is most convenient. When that time range approaches, your body will start "helping" you by slowing down and feeling sleepy. This will assist you in falling asleep at the intended time. On the flip-side, if you wake up at the same time every morning, your body will start anticipating the alarm and provide you with extra energy to take on your predicted morning.

Once you're awake, turn up the lights. Make sure your home or workspace is bright and cheery during the day so that gray light doesn't get you feeling "blah" even after a great wake-up.

7. Make and Complete New Plans

Last but not least, try making some plans. That "blah" feeling can come from not feeling complete or fulfilled during the winter seasons. Instead of letting life pass you buy or constantly scrambling to complete your to-do list - try a few start-to-finish plans. Plan an evening with a friend and follow-through. Plan to finish a project at home and make it happen. Build a birdhouse or complete a language course. Doing things intentionally is a great way to shake off the "blahs" by feeling accomplished and awesome, instead.

Conclusion

It's common to feel down in the dumps, especially in winter. But you don't have to slide into a wintery slump. And the above winter blues tips are a great way to start. Here at Circadian Optics, we have a collection of light therapy lamps that are effective at mimicking daylight sun and ensuring user safety by filtering out virtually all UV light to avoid damaging your eyes. You've seen how getting light at the right time, especially during winter, boosts energy, improves your mood, regulates sleep, and ensures overall health. Cash in on all these benefits today with the best light therapy lamps.