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The Winter Blues: What Can You do to Overcome This Common Cold-Weather Condition?


As the days get shorter and the nights get longer, holiday joy can turn into sadness during winter. A decrease in exposure to sunlight can bring on mild depression, otherwise known as the winter blues.

winter depression

A lack of exposure to sunlight during the winter contributes to a decrease in serotonin levels, which may lead to feelings of depression.

Winter sleep-wake cycles often have us waking up after the morning sun has been up for a while. This limits the amount of already limited sunlit hours that we are exposed to during the day. These fluctuations in the sleep-wake cycles create an increase in melatonin levels during sleep, which can increase feelings of depression.

The lack of exposure to light also contributes to a decrease in serotonin levels, which also leads to depression. Cases of severe winter depression are known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which often requires treatment by a doctor or psychologist.

Do you have the winter blues?

According to Cornell University, these are the symptoms you should look for when determining whether or not you suffer from the winter blues:

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  • Increased feelings of lethargy

  • Difficulty waking up in the morning, as the days get shorter

  • Difficulty concentrating and thinking creatively in comparison to the summer months

  • Incorrectly blaming oneself for things that go wrong

  • Difficulty performing tasks that normally seem to be easy/enjoyable

  • Increased craving for carbohydrate-rich food like chocolate and sodas

There are numerous natural tips to help you cope with the winter blues:

  1. Take advantage of the sunlight

Try to get out in the sun, or let it shine through your windows as much as possible. Try using sheer curtains instead of blinds. If possible, go to bed earlier so that you can wake up earlier to get more of that morning sun.

  1. Use a light box

Light boxes mimic natural sunlight by emitting 10 to 20 times the amount of light emitted by a normal light fixture. Use daily, preferably in the early morning for about 30 minutes to 2 hours. This high intensity of light helps to restrict the amount of melatonin produced by the brain, and thus decrease feelings of depression.

interior painting

Adding some color to your home may help to brighten your mood (just be sure to use non-toxic paint!).

  1. Add some color to your home

You might see the blues and greys of the winter landscape as being cold, drab, and depressing. Liven up your home with splashes of warm colors, such as reds, oranges, yellows… Instead of taking on any major redecorating, just add some warm-colored pillows, blankets, candles, tablecloths, etc. These colors evoke feelings of warmth and fire. And by all means, if you have a fireplace -- use it!

  1. Exercise

Exercise is a natural way to increase serotonin levels. Studies have shown that one hour of aerobic exercise has the same uplifting effects as two and a half hours of indoor light therapy. You can also try doing regular stretching, as it will help you to reduce and manage stress, along with improve your mental clarity and focus. As with exercise, proper form in stretching has everything to do with achieving the maximum health benefits. We highly recommend the Stretching Toward a Healthier Life DVD for this purpose.

  1. Modify your diet

Carbohydrates have been shown to increase serotonin levels. To treat your body right, indulge in larger portions of complex carbohydrates, such as whole-grain pasta and brown rice. Try eating healthy simple carbohydrates, like fruit, in place of high-sugar foods. Sugary foods may provide momentary relief, but will ultimately exhaust the body and make the body more susceptible to illness.

According to experts at Cornell University, 85% of people with the winter blues can eradicate the symptoms with these various types of natural therapy. So if you’re feeling blue, try some of these natural tips to help you get those clouds to part!

Recommended Reading

How to Keep Your Spirits High During the Upcoming Holidays

Depression: Some Astounding Statistics and What You Should do if You or a Loved One is Confronting It


Cornell University – Gannett Health Services. Beating the Winter Blues: A practical guide on how to get through winter at Cornell. December 2008

Montenegro, Margareth. Go Away Winter Blues! December 2008

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