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25 Great Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

Try these tips to boost your mood, mindset and motivation


spinner image illustration of outside view of woman looking out window; snow and rain falling
Illustration: Lan Truong

If winter makes you feel blah instead of blissful, you’re not alone: About five percent of U.S. adults, or some 13 million, experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), according to the American Psychiatric Association. To help combat the winter blues, we’ve curated 25 tips to try, and we want to hear yours as well. Share your seasonal pick-me-ups in the comments section at the bottom of the page. 

Note: Anyone experiencing symptoms of depression should consult a physician.

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1. Make your home happier

Winter is for nesting, and you probably spend a lot more time indoors than you do when it’s warm outside. If you love your home, you’ll relish that time; if you loathe your home, you’ll resent it. Fortunately, making just a few simple tweaks to your space can make it feel more like a sanctuary than a prison. “Bring in more natural light by using sheer curtains or light-filtering window shades that allow daylight to fill your home,” says interior designer Vivianne Chow, owner of Viv & Tim Home. “You can easily switch out throw pillows or artwork to incorporate brighter colors like yellow or orange that help to lift your mood. Bringing in soft throw blankets or plush rugs can make any space feel cozy and inviting.” If you don’t already have one, now’s the perfect time to create a cozy corner in which to relax when you need a timeout. “A reading nook with a comfy chair and good lighting, or a meditation spot with soft cushioning, can be personal retreats,” says interior designer Artem Kropovinsky, founder of New York-based interior design studio Arsight.

2. Wax nostalgic

While you’re redecorating, consider infusing your home with nostalgic artifacts and mementos — for example, treasured family photos, movie posters of your favorite films, album covers from your favorite artists, books by your favorite authors or heirlooms that remind you of your childhood. Research from a Japanese study published in 2016 in Social Cognitive and Affective Neurosciences shows that nostalgic experiences activate not only the areas of the brain that are associated with memory but also those that are associated with pleasure and rewards. A happy memory could be exactly the kind of pick-me-up you need on a dreary winter’s day. And if you have time for more than a quick hit, go one step further by actually flipping through your photo albums, rereading that favorite book or rewatching that favorite film.

3. Find your community

People often hibernate in winter — hunkering down at home and trading happy hours and barbecues for blankets and binge-watching. Often, the consequence is loneliness, and connection is the cure, suggests physician Jeremy Nobel, founder and president of The Foundation for Art & Healing and author of Project UnLonely: Healing Our Crisis of Disconnection. The best way to make new friends, he says, is to nurture your most passionate interests — be it classic cars, gluten-free cooking, basket-weaving or bird-watching. “Find something you really care about,” urges Nobel, who says camaraderie awaits in both online and offline forums. He recalls one woman, for example, who tapped into an online community of wildlife enthusiasts who watch live video streams of bears in national parks. “She was going through a health issue, and when she happened to mention that in a chat, she found that people expressed unbelievable support for her. … When we’re really interested in something, we feel a kind of connection to other people who are also interested in that. But it only works if it’s something you’re truly curious about.”

4. Boost your mood with music

One form of art that’s particularly potent is music, says Mark Atkinson, a medical doctor and head of human potential development at Sens.ai, a tech startup specializing in neurofeedback and personalized brain-training solutions. “Music … promotes brain plasticity,” Atkinson says. “The key is to avoid thinking about the music, but instead to allow the energy and information of the music to flow through you and fill you. Become a conduit for the music. If that music has a positive association … it will trigger a cocktail of hormones.” It doesn’t matter if it’s Beethoven, Bon Jovi or the Beatles. What matters is that it fills you with comfort or joy. “My recommendations are to have a playlist of music that you really enjoy, and to listen to music for at least 10 minutes a day … in an environment that allows you to melt into the music for maximal effect.”

5. Let there be light

Although too much exposure can increase your risk for skin cancer and eye disease, studies show that moderate amounts of sunlight are extremely beneficial. The sun’s ultraviolet rays help your body produce vitamin D, for example, which is crucial for bone health, muscle function and immunity. They also regulate your body’s circadian rhythms, which can impact your sleep quality. They even affect hormone production, which can impact your mood. Unfortunately, shorter days and colder weather mean that many people don’t get adequate sun exposure in wintertime. If you’re among them, you might want to invest in a light box, suggests clinical psychologist Joe Trunzo, professor of psychology at Bryant University. “Light boxes emit artificial UVB rays, which can be a useful way to get sunlight on days with cloud cover,” explains Trunzo, who says there are consumer-grade devices available without a prescription. “A study out of Yale showed that the best light boxes emitted 10,000 lux at a distance greater than 11 inches. Lower lux numbers, or 10,000-lux light boxes that call for distances closer than 11 inches, are still effective, but will require more time to get the requisite light.”

spinner image illustration of woman pulling curtain back and looking out window at sun
Illustration: Lan Truong

6. Dance it out

While you’re listening to your favorite music, you might as well dance to it, too. “Dance by yourself or — even better — with a partner, friend or family member. It’s … an instant mood shifter,” say Susan Magsamen, co-author, along with Ivy Ross, of Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us. Indeed, a 2021 survey of 1,000 people by UCLA Health found that 98 percent of people who practice “ecstatic dance” — free-moving, unchoreographed movement — experience improved mood. Plus, what’s good for your mind is good for your body. “Winter can activate chronic aches and pains that bring us down,” Magsamen notes. “This can be managed by dancing and moving — even using virtual reality.”

7. Feel the vibrations

Music isn’t the only soundtrack that can turn your winter frown upside-down. “Put in your earbuds and listen to the sounds of the ocean, rain, wind, chimes or even singing bowls,” Magsamen suggests. “These recordings can be easily found online. Sound is an excellent tool to help regulate stress, in that it can work on an unconscious level. The frequency of sound instantly taps into what lies underneath conscious recognition, literally changing the vibrations in your body.” To find sound files to listen to, search on YouTube, Spotify, or calmsound.com. 

8. Practice the art of ‘inner smiling’

How you feel starts with how you think, according to Atkinson, who says you can make your body feel safe and relaxed by engaging in the practice of “inner smiling.” “Close your eyes and allow your face and eyes to start smiling, even if you don't feel like smiling,” Atkinson advises. “Allow that smile to expand into your whole body. Notice how the process of thinking closes down the smile. Be centered in your heart, no effort, simply smiling. With practice, you can feel an expansive sense of warmth and well-being within just a few seconds. It's a powerful and direct way to elevate your mood and shift your state.”

9. Keep a consistent bedtime

Sleep enhances your mood, energy and overall well-being, according to Shelby Harris, a clinical associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City and director of sleep health at sleep-industry website Sleepopolis, who adds that sleep stabilizes your circadian rhythm and supports the production of mood-regulating hormones and neurotransmitters. “Improving the quality of your sleep during the winter means maintaining a consistent sleep schedule to regulate the body’s internal clock … and creating a comfortable, cool sleep environment with minimal light and sound pollution.” AARP’s Smart Guide to Sleep has more tips on catching your zzz’s. 

10. Heal yourself with creativity

Feeling that you lack friends is one type of loneliness that can fester in winter. Feeling that you lack a place in the world is another, according to Nobel, who calls this “existential loneliness.” For many people, creative expression is a surefire remedy. “If I’m not sure that my life has meaning and purpose, the arts can be a very inspiring and empowering way to ask spiritual or existential questions,” Nobel says. “Sometimes it’s poetry. Sometimes it’s dance. Whatever it is, it can take you outside of your own ego-driven concerns and connect you to a larger universe so that you feel less lonely at a kind of meta level.” There are physiological benefits in addition to spiritual ones. “There’s incredible evidence that when you either make art or experience art … levels of the stress hormone cortisol go down, while the so-called feel-good hormones — dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, oxytocin — go up. So, at the very least, when you’re making art or experiencing art, you’re less stressed out and in a better mood.”

spinner image illustration of woman painting a giant heart; a picture of a heart is hung on the wall on each side
Illustration: Lan Truong

11. Fuel good moods with good foods

If you don’t feel well in winter, it might be because you don’t eat well in winter. “One hundred million nerve cells line the digestive tract and communicate with the central nervous system. Diet can impact these conversations,” explains Trunzo, who says inflammatory foods like red meat, processed snacks, sugar and refined grains can trigger anxiety and depression. He recommends a Mediterranean diet that’s rich in anti-inflammatory foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins — including wild-caught fatty fish like salmon, which is high in Omega 3 fatty acids that have been shown to have benefits for people with mood disorders.

12. Take your vitamins

Geriatric psychiatrist Gary Small recommends Omega 3 fatty acids. If you don’t like fish, consider taking fish-oil supplements, advises Small, chair of psychiatry at Hackensack University Medical Center and author of The Small Guide to Depression. Turmeric supplements might be beneficial, as well, he says: A small study of 40 people he conducted at UCLA in 2018 found that curcumin — the active ingredient in turmeric — improved both memory and mood in test subjects. Vitamin D supplements can also be a good idea for some people, according to Trunzo. “Our bodies need sunlight to make vitamin D, so in the winter months some may see a deficiency of this nutrient,” he says. “While some research points to depressive symptoms in those with low vitamin D levels, there has been no study to date that confirms the link. Vitamin D provides other vital functions, like lowering inflammation and calcium absorption for bone density, so it may be worth getting your levels checked in case supplementation is necessary.”

13. Consider comfort foods

Although a healthy diet can have a sizable impact on mood and well-being, there’s a time and place for indulgence, too. “[Studies show] comfort foods often connect us to happy memories from childhood or our cultural roots. Eating grandma’s meat loaf or tamales like mom made fills us with nostalgia and activates reward centers in the brain,” says food blogger Lindsey Chastain, author of the homesteading blog The Waddle and Cluck. 

14. Tickle your funny bone

One way to banish sorrow is with laughter, says speaker and corporate trainer Paul Osincup, author of The Humor Habit. “Being told to just cheer up or think positive tends to have the opposite effect — especially during peak windshield-scraping season. But you can train your brain to naturally be more optimistic and positive by developing your sense of humor,” explains Osincup, who says laughter floods the brain with the four “happiness hormones” — dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins. One way to hardwire humor into your brain is to write down three things you find funny every day for a week.

15. Do the morning crossword

In a 2022 study, researchers at Columbia and Duke Universities found that older adults with mild cognitive impairment showed cognitive improvement, enhanced daily functioning and slowed brain shrinkage when they completed a daily crossword puzzle. And what’s good for your brain is good for your mood, according to Small, who has been doing crossword puzzles since he was a child. “When you feel strong cognitively, it boosts your self-esteem,” he says. “As you age, your brain works differently, and you start to have more memory slips. That can lead to anxiety and even depression. So they’re very tightly connected, mood and cognition.”

spinner image illustration of woman holding pen and writing on crossword puzzle; cup of coffee next to puzzle
Illustration: Lan Truong

16. Follow your nose

Aromatherapy with essential oils can alleviate anxiety “significantly,” according to a 2020 meta-analysis of 32 studies by authors at institutes in China and published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. “The olfactory system is right next to the hippocampus in the medial temporal lobe of the brain, so it may trigger emotional memories,” Small theorizes. “I can tell you, if I smell eucalyptus trees, I’m immediately back to my wonderful summer camp experiences when I was a preteen.” Magsamen agrees: “Smell informs as much as 75 percent of your emotions,” she notes, citing mint, lavender and ginger as favorite scents. “You can make simple teas or put them in a bowl anywhere in your home.”

17. Stay active

A natural impulse in winter is to bundle up and snuggle into a warm spot on the couch. Thanks to the mood-enhancing benefits of exercise, however, folks who are prone to the winter blues should move more, according to Small. “When you exercise, endorphins start circulating through your brain. That’s a natural analgesic and antidepressant,” he says. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle strengthening activity each week. “I recommend slowing down during the winter months and doing exercises like heated yoga, Pilates … or at-home strength training,” says certified health and nutrition coach Caitlin Spears, founder of Complete by Caitlin. “Exercise doesn’t have to be a long, grueling process. People underestimate the power of just moving your body a few times a day through lighter activity.” 

18. Warm up with a walk

According to Joyce Shulman, author of Walk Your Way to Better: 99 Walks That Will Change Your Life, “Winter walking is a fantastic way to help beat the winter blahs. A proven mood booster, walking has been shown to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol while increasing levels of serotonin, dopamine and endorphins … resulting in a more positive mood.” Shulman says a 2017 study by researchers at the University of Georgia found that a single 10-minute stair walk had more energy-boosting power than a shot of espresso. In winter, indoor walks are ideal in places like shopping malls, big-box stores, museums and gyms with walking tracks or treadmills. Walking outdoors can be even more invigorating, however. “Remember the old adage: There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Dress for success with lots of layers. Avoid cotton base layers or socks and don’t forget gloves — or better yet, mittens — a scarf and a hat that can be pulled down over your ears,” continues Shulman, who says winter darkness shouldn’t stop you. “Reflective clothing on both your front and your back and a flashlight — or better yet, a headlamp — give you the chance to experience the peace and quiet of an evening walk.”

19. Take an outdoor adventure

When she has a tinge of the winter blues, writer Caroline Paul blends nature and adventure. “Nature itself boosts well-being,” says Paul, author of Tough Broad: From Boogie Boarding to Wing Walking — How Outdoor Adventure Improves Our Lives as We Age. “From tree chemicals, to birdsong, to the soft, rounded shapes of hills and bushes and horizons — [research shows that] all this strengthens our immune system, improves cognitive function, inhibits inflammation and lowers stress chemicals like cortisol. Now add adventure. And when I say adventure, I don’t mean ‘death-defying.’ I mean exhilarating, maybe novel, physically vitalizing, mentally invigorating, perhaps a little uncertain.” Outdoor adventures in winter could include snowshoeing, jumping into a cold lake with a group of “polar bear” swimmers, curling or cross-country skiing, to name just a few ideas. Whatever you choose, it’s about simultaneously communing with nature and challenging it. “I love winter exactly for its bracing conditions,” Paul says. “It offers a special physical vitality that allows you to see and feel yourself as stronger and more game than people — and you — expect.”

20. Start an indoor garden

If winter has you feeling blue, the answer might be to fill your life with more green, suggests Alex Kantor, owner of Perfect Plants Nursery based in North Florida. “Research has shown that being around plants and engaging in gardening activities can reduce stress levels, improve concentration and productivity, and boost overall mood and happiness,” Kantor says. “For one, plants release oxygen, creating a more pleasant and calming environment. Additionally, taking care of plants and witnessing their growth and development can provide a sense of accomplishment and purpose, leading to increased motivation and energy levels.” The best plants to grow indoors in winter include spider plants, snake plants, pothos and ZZ plants, all of which tolerate low-light environments, according to Kantor. Also good are succulents, herbs like mint and basil, and leafy greens like spinach, adds Gene Caballero, co-founder of lawn care company GreenPal.

spinner image illustration of woman picking tomato off of plant; bowl of tomatoes in front
Illustration: Lan Truong

21. Keep your holiday lights up

If your lights are still up, consider keeping them up, says physician assistant and board-certified health and wellness coach Susan Whitman, an integrative health lecturer at the University of Vermont. To understand why SAD is more prevalent in the United States than in Europe, despite similar climates, she’s been studying Scandinavia and the Scandinavian way of life. One major difference is what she calls “wintertime mindset.” Americans have created an entire culture around hating winter. Scandinavians, however, are “very practical” about it. “They don’t dread winter like we do because they prepare for it,” says Whitman, who recommends focusing on what you love about winter instead of what you hate. For her, that’s Christmas lights — she keeps them up all winter long — but for you it might be cute sweaters and cozy blankets, hot chocolate and warm apple cider, or snowmen and sledding. “I’m surrounded by friends who get super excited when the snow finally falls because it means we get to do all these things we couldn’t do when it was warm out.”

22. Sweat it out in a sauna

There’s another major difference between Scandinavian and American culture, according to Whitman: saunas. So entrenched are saunas in Finnish culture that there’s an estimated 3.3 million of them for a population of 5.3 million — more than one sauna for every two people. Although strong medical evidence proving saunas have plausible health benefits hasn’t been established, there are small studies that show passive exposure to high heat (113°F to 212°F) improves mental health, and repeated use may optimize stress responses.

23. Take a vacation day

One more difference Whitman has observed between the United States and Scandinavian countries is vacation. In the United States, workers get an average of 11 to 13 days of paid vacation after one year of service. In Norway, all employees are entitled to at least 25 days of paid vacation. Although you can’t dictate how many vacation days you get if you’re still working, you can decide when to take them and how to spend them. Many people, for example, like to take their vacation days in the summer and to spend them taking elaborate holidays out of state or overseas. If you’re prone to winter depression, however, your vacation days might do more good if you take them in winter and spend them at home. “People think that when you take your vacation you have to do these amazing, big trips. But what about a vacation when you have some friends over and watch movies cuddling under blankets with the fire going?” Whitman asks. “Give yourself permission to embrace the natural rhythm of winter, which is being slower and more contemplative.”

24. Host a ‘crappy dinner party’

The “crappy dinner party” trend went viral on social media a few years ago, where people held very low-key get-togethers. “When they host a party, people always feel like they have to make their special bacon-wrapped dates or whatever amazing appetizers they have. But really, it’s just about getting together with people,” Whitman says. “So once a week we would have Friday-Night Meatballs, where I would literally pull out frozen meatballs and make pasta, and whoever wanted to show up could show up. Sometimes two people came over, and sometimes we had 35 people at our house. I had to let go of all ideas of how to host the ‘right’ party. It wasn’t about impressing people. It was just about community.”

25. Give yourself a high five

If all else fails, there’s an easy way to pick yourself back up when winter knocks you down, suggests motivational speaker Mel Robbins: Every morning, give yourself a high five in the mirror. “I know … It sounds schmaltzy as hell. I thought so too. And then I tried it. The impact I felt was immediate,” says Robbins, host of The Mel Robbins Podcast and author of The High 5 Habit. “Science explains why it works. … Your brain already ‘knows’ what a high five is because of your life experience giving and receiving them from others. A high five only has positive programming. It communicates support, love, confidence and trust. It triggers celebratory and encouraging emotions to flood your body. Every time you high five yourself, you aim all of that high five goodness and programming right back at yourself.”

 

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