Banish the Winter Blues: Essential Tips for Boosting Mood and Energy

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Fewer hours of daylight and frosty temps can affect your mood, but you don’t have to make like a bear during the coldest season. Our Scouted health and wellness experts share their secrets to conquering the winter slump with the right mix of self-care, sunshine, supplements, and more. To find a list of mood-boosting resources near you, consult The Scout Guide Directory.

Soak up some rays. Our group of esteemed experts agree that one of the most effective ways to combat winter blues is by seeking out some sunshine. “Less exposure to natural light causes an increase in melatonin and a decrease in serotonin, which means you want to sleep more and you have less chemical reserve of the neurotransmitters that enhance mood,” Megan Kingdon, a double-board certified nurse practitioner and founder of the wellness oasis, Well Room in Charlottesville, Virginia, explains. “Year round, it’s recommended to get early morning light exposure to keep your circadian rhythm in balance, but it becomes especially vital in the winter,” Kingdon says. Kristin Dura, founder of Una Vida Meditation and Movement in Niwot, Colorado, agrees. Getting outside, even on a cloudy day, provides you with a multitude of benefits thanks to the sun’s powerful properties.

Get a move on. While sitting on the couch under a pile of blankets may sound like the best way to while away the winter season, Dura extols the virtues of a body in motion as a way to combat the blues. This time of year, she prefers gently flowing embodiment practices, such as Qigong (a form of exercise that follows traditional Chinese medicine principles), breathwork, and Vinyasa flow or Yin yoga, all which serve to elevate the mood. When all else fails, Dura advocates for putting on your favorite music at home and cutting a rug.

Level up with vitamins and supplements. Macarena Corral, a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of the Center for Collaborative Health in Edina, Minnesota, touts the usefulness of vitamin supplementation when it comes to mental health. “Studies have shown that a vitamin D deficiency is generally associated with an increased risk of depression, including seasonal affective disorder (SAD),” she explains. Corral recommends adding magnesium, folate or B9, other B vitamins, and fish oil to your winter rotation, as all have been studied for their help with mood regulation and the treatment of depression. 

Nosh to nourish body and soul. Simple soups and stews are some of the easiest, and most intuitive ways, to pack in nourishing nutrients in the winter, reports Taryn White, clinical nutritionist and owner of GreenMind Health in Richmond, Virginia. “These will not only keep you warm and cozy, but they’re also great ways to load up on produce, especially dark leafy greens and herbs.” White also recommends upping your intake of collard greens, Brussels sprouts, and fennel during the colder months, all known for their support of brain health and liver function. When it comes to sweet treats, she recommends swapping out sugary desserts for flavonoid-packed berries, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can improve your mood and boost your immune system. Another way White battles the winter blues is by incorporating spices and aromatics, such as cumin, ginger, and garlic, into her cooking to lower inflammation levels, and by drinking teas that contain the antioxidant L-theanine, all of which are shown to improve mood.

Let the light (and heat) in. Popularity is growing in the fields of chromotherapy, otherwise known as light therapy and sauna. “It’s really exciting to read all the new research coming out over the last few years on the wide ranging benefits of these practices, both physically and emotionally,” Kingdon says. “Saunas are quickly becoming a well-accepted treatment supplement for conditions like SAD and depression.” She also explains that the customizable light therapy present in many saunas today can elicit different reactions: red can enhance energy; orange and yellow are known to be uplifting and mood boosting; blue can minimize depression and anxiety; and purple induces tranquility and calm. “These, plus an impressive and extensive list of health benefits, makes it easy to see why a cozy session stretched out in a sauna is an appealing way to keep the blues at bay.”

Establish a good bedtime routine. Sleep is an important part of your health year round but in the winter, when changes to sunrise and sunset times can affect our circadian rhythms, it’s even more essential to keep tabs on our slumber habits. Elizabeth Zarzour, newborn care specialist, sleep consultant and founder of Ez Sleep Training in Mobile, Alabama, recommends keeping to a routine to set yourself up for sleep success. “Take a warm bath or shower, turn off all screens, and engage in a calming activity like reading or journaling,” she says. “All of these activities signal to our brain that the day is over and it’s time for sleep.” She also advises lowering the temperature in your bedroom at night. While this may seem counterintuitive on a cold winter night, decreasing your core body temperature can lead to a better night’s sleep.

Make connecting with others a priority. When the weather isn’t ideal, and the sun sets early, it’s easy to opt for staying in, but Corral advises against making this a habit. “Plan activities with friends or family to stay socially connected and say ‘yes’ to invitations to social events,” she says. “Positive social support and involvement can aid in the overall improvement of mental health and serve as a protective factor against further mental health issues.” If you can’t bear the thought of braving the cold or changing out of your pajamas, bring the socializing to you by hosting a cozy movie night or casual catch up.

TSG Tip 471 from Megan Kingdon, founder of Well Room in Charlottesville, Virginia; Kristin Dura, founder of Una Vida Meditation and Movement in Niwot, Colorado; Macarena Corral, co-founder of the Center for Collaborative Health in Edina, Minnesota; Taryn White, owner of GreenMind Health in Richmond, Virginia; Elizabeth Zarzour, founder of Ez Sleep Training in Mobile, Alabama. Well Room appears in The Scout Guide Charlottesville. Una Vida Meditation and Movement appears in The Scout Guide Boulder. The Center for Collaborative Health appears in The Scout Guide Minneapolis. GreenMind Health appears in The Scout Guide Richmond. Ez Sleep Training appears in The Scout Guide Mobile Bay.