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The winter of our first year in Vermont was one of the coldest on record. It's also the winter we built a "beach" in the basement -- an old waterbed frame lined with plastic, a few bags of play sand, a couple of heat lamps and a some beach chairs. Add in a little island music and we had an escape that got us through until spring.
Let's face it, surviving winter can be tough. Even the heartiest of us can fall prey to the "winter blues," the mild depression, lack of motivation, and low energy that many people experience during the cold season. The good news is, even if you don't have the resources to build a seaside resort in your rec room, there's a lot you can do to manage, and even prevent, the blues.
1. Soak Up the Sun
Have you ever noticed how your pets gravitate to the "sunny spots" in the house, especially on cold days? They have the right idea. Sunlight not only provides us with Vitamin D, but exposure to sunlight releases neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood. During shorter, darker winter days most of us spend a lot of time indoors and the lack of sunlight can cause many people to become depressed. Get outside for a bit whenever the sun is shining. Keep your shades up during the day to let more light in. Put "full spectrum" bulbs into some of the lights in your home. These mimic natural light and actually have the same affects on your mind as the real thing.
2. Get Up and Go
Exercise isn't just for maintaining your weight and staying fit. It also helps your mind by releasing those "feel-good chemicals" that improve your mood. The feel-good side effects of a workout can last for hours!
3. Eat a Healthy Diet
Whether it's a biological urge, a survival instinct, or simple boredom from long hours spent indoors, a lot of us have a tendency to eat more in the winter. And what we choose to eat can have a great effect on our moods. Refined and processed foods (like white breads, rice, and sugar) are not only devoid of important nutrients, they also play havoc with our energy levels and can contribute to depression and mood swings. Eat a high-protein, high-fiber snack between meals -- like peanut butter on a whole wheat cracker, or low-fat cheese on a slice of wheat bread. And find lower-fat, lower-cal ways to enjoy your favorite winter comfort foods: Mac and cheese made with low-fat cheese, steamy pizza with veggies and a whole wheat crust, a bowl of vegetable soup, cocoa with non-fat milk - you get the idea.
4. Be Nice to Yourself
Plan something fun and your mood will lift when you're anticipating the activity and when it actually happens. Make it something you'll love—an afternoon of shopping, a day at the spa, a dinner for friends, a night at the movies. It doesn't have to break the budget to snap you out of a looming funk and lighten your mood for days.
5. Just Relax!
You might categorize this under being nice to yourself, but relaxing is something you should try every day - maybe even several times in one day! Keep winter blues at bay by spending a few minutes each day doing nothing! Read a book or magazine, sleep in on the weekend, go to bed early, try some meditations, take a yoga class.
6. Look on the Bright Side (of winter)
Winter has a lot to offer (really) so look for ways to enjoy it. Take up a winter sport like ice skating, snowboarding, snowshoeing, hockey, or even sledding! Or just bundle up and go for a walk. Staying active will boost your energy and seeing winter in a positive light will keep your spirits high.
7. You Gotta Have Friends
Who ya gonna call when you're down and need a little TLC? Friends, family, mentors, co-workers, and neighbors of course! Keep a mental list of your go-to people and don't be afraid to reach out online, over the phone or in person when you need a some encouragement.
8. Sleep Counts
Next time the urge hits to tap the snooze alarm and grab an extra few moments of rest, go for it. Don't go into hibernation (those 12-hour snooze marathons on the weekend can actually make you MORE tired) but do make an effort to get 7-8 hours of sleep at about the same time each night. The more normal your sleeping patterns, the more energy you have each day.
What tips can you share for beating the winter blues?
Greenwrite is a prolific writer with an eclectic range of specialties that reflects her curiosity for just about everything. A former advertising creative director, she makes her home in Vermont, but escapes to a sunny beach whenever the opportunity presents itself.