A staggering 90 percent of us feel at least some sadness brought on by winter’s shorter, darker days. But by taking care of our mental health, we can lift our spirits and find joy again in difficult times. Read on to discover easy ways to free yourself from winter blues.
Look for joy.
“Just asking yourself, ‘What special thing can I do this season that I don’t do other times of the year?’ has a profound effect on your mood,” says expert Kari Leibowitz, PhD, health psychologist who studies mindsets during winter. Dr. Leibowitz put this theory to the test while living north of the Arctic Circle.
“There’s always something folks can find, from ice-skating to savoring their favorite hot stew. Widening your perspective shapes what you notice so you see more positives, increasing your well-being.”
Find comfort in ritual.
One thing that struck Leibowitz while living in Norway was just how much the people celebrate this time of year. “In the depth of winter, there are so many festivals,” she says. To borrow Scandinavians’ winter wisdom, simply find a ritual that invites calm. “For example, every Friday, I like to take a hot shower by candlelight. Ritualizing an activity, be it baking or curling up with a book, gives us a very real boost.”
Let there be light.
There’s no substitute for the mood-brightening effects of light! “Using a light box at 10,000 lux for 30 minutes a day right after you wake up — it works best when you use it as early as possible — is a very effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder,” says expert Paul Desan, MD, PhD, and associate professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine. And if your symptoms (like moodiness and trouble sleeping) are less severe, just open the curtains and let the natural light hit your eyes for a few minutes in the morning.
Tap ‘weak’ ties.
A whopping 70 percent of us feel more isolated in the winter. “But even small gestures, like complimenting someone, make us feel more connected,” says expert Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, distinguished professor and vice chair of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and author of The How of Happiness (Buy from Amazon, $14.19).
Plus, you don’t necessarily have to reach out in person. “We recently did a study on the effects of Zoom, and just a few minutes on a virtual gathering had a huge effect on people’s happiness.” Regular chats not only help heal loneliness — they make us feel physically warmer.
Discover clues in values.
When Leibowitz couldn’t visit her mother last winter, she found comfort by jotting down what matters to her most.
“This helps you find ways to lift your spirits,” she says, revealing that she wrote “fun” and “connection.” “That clarity helped me come up with a game my family could play on social media: I made up silly questions, like ‘What’s your second favorite animal?’ and we guessed one another’s answers. Your values are a compass, pointing you in the direction you need to go to feel more joy.”
Be patient with yourself.
No matter where you fall on the spectrum of winter blues, relief takes time. “You won’t feel great every day — and you’re not supposed to,” says Leibowitz. “Shifting your mindset is like a thermostat, not a light switch, because it’s gradual. Simply checking in with yourself is the best way to beat the blues, in winter and throughout the year.”
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This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.