Fall and winter don't just mean colder days and less hours of light — for some of us it means actively trying to feel ways for how to not feel down or depressed during the changing seasons. According to the National Institute of Health, feeling a little unlike your normal self or having the "winter blues" is fairly common among people in the U.S., and a portion of those feeling down even fit the criteria for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Not to mention that less daylight and sunshine and more frequent cold temperatures usually means you spend more time cooped up indoors and less time enjoying yourself outside. A 2008 study in the Journal of Labor Economics even showed that people spend more time at work when the weather is poor, meaning that you may end up working more and enjoying yourself less in the colder months.
While you might not feel our very best in the fall and winter, the good news is there are several things you can do to improve our overall mood and energy levels when the weather is getting us down. Read on for some of the top tips to help you feel better until spring.
1. Listen To Upbeat Music
According to a 2013 study conducted by the University of Missouri, listening to cheerful, upbeat music can positively affect your mood in the short term, as well as increase your happiness levels overall if done daily for several weeks. The study's author, Yuna Ferguson, noted that it's important not to overthink, "Am I happy yet," while listening, and instead just allow yourself to enjoy the experience.
2. Schedule Activities You Know You'll Enjoy
The National Institute of Health suggests that engaging in activities you know you'll enjoy can directly affect your mood in a positive way. According to the NIH, identifying the specific activities you know you enjoy and look forward to, like lunch with friends, going to the movies, or walking in the park, and ensuring you schedule them into your weekly routine.
3. Consider A Sunlight Simulator
The NIH also recommended light therapy as an effective way to feel better during the darker months, even reporting a 70 percent improvement among patients who sat under a sun lamp daily for several weeks. According to mental health expert Dr. Matthew Rudorfer, sunlight causes the brain to produce melatonin, which helps keep us feeling happy. Sitting in front of a light specifically designed to simulate sunlight can replace the missing hours of sun, helping us feel like ourselves again.
4. Drink Milk
Don't fret if you can't get outside or don't have a sun lamp. Sunlight and melatonin are linked to D in the body, and there are plenty of other ways to increase your daily Vitamin D intake. The NIH listed fatty fishes, like salmon and tuna, along with eggs, fortified milk, and certain breakfast cereals as good sources of the vitamin. Try incorporating these foods into your daily routine if you know you usually feel down in the colder months.
5. Take Vitamins
And there's yet another way to increase your Vitamin D without natural or artificial sunlight — lifestyle and nutrition expert Dr. Andrew Weil said taking Vitamin D supplements every day; these have the added benefit of Vitamin D without the harmful effects of the sun. Dr. Weil also suggested taking B vitamins and St. John's Wart to help ward off feeling down.
According to the Harvard School of Medicine, a multitude of studies going as far back as 1981 show that "regular exercise can improve mood in people with mild to moderate depression." I know, I know — getting outside in the freezing cold to get some cardio is usually the last thing anyone wants to be doing in winter, but you can always try exercises you can do from the comfort of your own home, like YouTuber Cassey Ho's fun indoor workout.
7. Talk It Out
And if you try all of the above, but still don't feel like you feel better, never be afraid to reach out for help. NIH research suggested that talk-therapy has positive overall results for patients feeling low in winter. SAD specialist Dr. Kelly Rohan at the University of Vermont noted that talk therapy includes trying to identify the negative thoughts a patient is having and "then reframe it into something that’s more accurate, less negative, and maybe even a little more positive."
There's no reason to continue feeling low or depressed in fall and winter, or resign yourself to the idea that it's just something you'll have to "deal with." Feeling like your best self when it's cold outside could be as simple as a few little tweaks to your daily routine.
If the above tips don't help, and you continue feeling depressed or even suicidal, then there are absolutely resources out there. Visit Mentalhealth.gov or StrengthOfUs.org for information on how to get help in your area, and if you feel as though it's an emergency, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.