13 Scientific (and Not So Scientific) Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

Winter is hard on a lot of people at the best of times. Add ongoing Covid uncertainty to the mix and the gloom of the long, cold, dark (and largely indoor) months can be oppressive indeed. How can you fight back and steal a little cheer despite the season’s challenges? 

Those with serious Seasonal Affective Disorder should consult a mental health professional, but for the rest of us battling everyday winter blues, the internet is jam-packed with suggestions both from scientific research and fellow sun lovers who have creative ways to beat the gloom they’re happy to share. 

1. Adjust your attitude (AKA think like a Scandinavian). 

Despite their harsh winters, Nordic countries like Norway and Sweden report much lower rates of seasonal depression. What’s their secret? Handily, it’s not genetics, but their approach to winter, which is something the rest of us can at least try to emulate. 

In these societies, “the prevailing sentiment is that winter is something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured,” explains Stanford psychologist Kari Leibowitz who has spent time researching how people cope with long dark winters in the Norwegian city of Tromsø, which sits above the Arctic Circle. 

Relishing the snow and ice might sound like a tall order but focusing on the positives, from snow sports to snug nights by the fire, can help you borrow a bit of the Norwegians’ winter cheer. 

2. Eat your depression away (no, not like that). 

Sadly, this doesn’t mean drowning your seasonal depression in Christmas cookies and heaping plates of pasta (though research shows chocolate really can improve your mood… just saying). 

“Greasy, refined carbohydrates such as pizza and garlic bread give you short-term pleasure, but will make you feel more sluggish over the winter months. More complex carbohydrates, such as broccoli, spinach, courgettes and lentils take longer to digest, meaning they don’t cause the sudden spikes in blood sugar that can play havoc with your mood,” explains the UK Guardian

Making sure you’re getting enough vitamin D can also help, according to the paper. “Vitamin D plays a role in regulating mood, maintaining optimum blood sugar levels and boosting our immune systems,” it says, but many people don’t get enough of it in the winter because one its main sources is sunlight. If you suspect you might be short this essential vitamin consider supplements or eating more fish like salmon and cod. (Eating plenty of this sort of oily fish may be another reason Scandinavians hold up so well over the winter). 

3. Exercise. 

As Harvard researcher John Ratey has explained, “Exercise is like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin.” That’s as true in January as it is in July, so strap on those earmuffs and go for a long walk (or at least trudge your way to the gym). 

4. Catch some fake sun. 

Waking up in pitch blackness is one of my personal least favorite aspects of the winter months. Real Simple suggests you fight this issue with a $50 gadget called a dawn simulator. “Studies show that a dawn simulator … a device that causes the lights in your bedroom to gradually brighten over a set period of time, can serve as an antidepressant and make it easier to get out of bed,” reports the magazine

Similarly, therapeutic light boxes have also been shown by research to help more than half of those who suffer from serious winter blues. “The effectiveness of light therapy can be enhanced by combining it with a tryptophan supplement, an amino acid which gets converted to serotonin in our body,” adds the Guardian

5. Turn up some tunes.

Like exercise, playing music at home has been shown to be a mood booster year round, but studies show it’s also an effective way to battle seasonal gloom. If you’re looking for a cheery playlist, science can help you out there as well. 

6. Plan a vacation. 

Perhaps my favorite research-backed suggestion comes, again, from Real Simple, which notes, “Research shows that the simple act of planning a vacation causes a significant increase in overall happiness.” So get Googling and figure out exactly where you’re going to escape to when the snow (and Covid restrictions) finally melt away. 

These are all scientifically validated approaches, but what about ways to beat the winter blues recommended by regular folks doing battle with winter gloom? Blog Cup Full of Jo recently rounded up suggestions of everyday ways to beat back your winter grumpiness, including: 

7. Cook your way through your favorite cookbook

8. Host a small cookie swap or articles club

9.  Ask a friend to name his or her favorite book and then read it yourself

10. Watch a super famous movie you’ve somehow never seen

11. Interview a parent or sibling one evening on the phone

13. And one more bonus idea… use your wardrobe to boost your mood by dressing in your brightest, happiest clothes. 

What’s your tried and true method for lifting your spirits when it’s cold and gray outside? 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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