My Top 5 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

Get the best of the blues...

I've spent 29 of my 33 years in New England, so I know all about the Winter Blues, otherwise known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  The struggle is real, especially once the holidays end and the promise of sun kissed skin seems an eternity away. The winters in the New England (and obviously other parts of the world- hello Arctic Circle!) are Long.  Dark. Cold.  Dreary.  As a child I loved the winter- sledding, skiing, building snow people, sipping hot cocoa and then heading back outside to frolic in the snow.  Then I grew older, started adulting and forgot the importance of play. My tolerance for winter and my mood dipped with the temperature.  It wasn't until I got into long distance running about 7 years ago and forced myself to do my long runs outdoors through the winter (I hate treadmills!) that I grew to appreciate and even love the winter again.  When late February rolls around and I see the masses around me growing weary from the cold, I've barely had my fill of winter.  Follow my steps below to beat the winter doldrums.

1) Get outside. I know, I know.  It's SO cold.  Trust me, exposing yourself to some daylight each and every day is scientifically proven to help.  Layer up, stuff your pockets with Kleenex and spend at least a solid, consecutive 15 minutes outside errrday.

winter blues

2) Stay active.  When the sun sets early and the mercury drops, it's really tempting to curl up on the couch and fall into a Netflix Vortex, but this helps contribute to SAD, a weakened immune system and fatigue.  If you can't tolerate the cold long enough to get active for 30 minutes outside most days of the week (walking counts too!), focus on a winter yoga practice (home or studio) or hit the gym.  I like to layer up and combine recommendations 1 and 2.  I also do a lot more yoga in the winter.  If group classes aren't your thing, try yogadownload.com, which has many free classes.  

beat the winter blues

3) Practice hydrotherapy. The Scandanavians practice it in the form of a sauna and cold-water plunge cycle and it is becoming more and more common among elite athletes and mood boosting aficionados (see Wim Hof Method).  Fortunately you can practice hydrotherapy in the comfort of your own home, even in winter, simply by alternating warm and cold water in the shower.  Start your shower with warm water and at the end of the shower shift the dial and endure as much cold water as you can withstand, but aim for AT LEAST 15 seconds. See if you can slowly increase the time you are able to tolerate the cold.  The flow of my day is variable and I admit I don't do this every day, especially if I am showering right before bed.  But morning and afternoon showers always end with a cold blast.  Hydrotherapy will leave you feeling refreshed and energized (similar to outdoor activity in the winter), will leave your hair shinier and help your skin glow!

Immerse yourself in the cold.

Immerse yourself in the cold.

4) Tune in to the changing seasons. Adjusting your dietary and lifestyle habits to sync with the changing seasons positively effects your energy. Root vegetables, such as winter squash, sweet potatoes and pumpkins, are great seasonal cold-weather staples. Focus on heartier, hot meals, like soups and stews, which the body naturally craves in the winter (try my pumpkin soup recipe here).  Slightly increase your intake of healthy fats this time of year by adding foods such as avocado, chia seeds and walnuts.  Incorporate warming spices, such as ginger and cinnamon, to tea, coffee and recipes.  Try to adjust your circadian rhythm to the shorter daylight hours.  Give in to the urge to relax at night, go to bed earlier and wake up with the sun.  It is what your body needs this time of year!  I've been in bed by 10pm every night for the last few weeks!

5) Supplement Vitamin D.  The main source of Vitamin D is sunlight.  Even if you do spend adequate time outside in the winter, the sun above the equator generally isn't strong enough to provide us with the vitamin D we need during the colder months.  In fact, the majority of the people in the Northeast have insufficient Vitamin D levels.  There really aren't any great food sources of Vitamin D (although you can buy fortified non-dairy milk and dried Shiitake and raw Chanterelle mushrooms also have a small amount). Adequate Vitamin D is crucial for bone health,regulating calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood, and immune and hormone regulation.  It also has some anti-cancer properties and may protect against breast, colorectal and prostate cancer.  It actually hasn't been proven to help SAD, but I take a Vitamin D supplement during the winter anyway to keep my immune and hormone regulation in check and to prevent any fractures on the ski slopes. 

Post-blizzard outdoor fun.

Post-blizzard outdoor fun.

What keeps you sane in the winter?