The winter blues strike me hard each year. When the Iowa winter reaches a point where it’s fairly miserable to go outside and the days are short to boot, I wind up spending far too much time inside. This causes me to not get enough sunshine, and even though I have a couple of good tricks for keeping the winter blues specifically at bay (vitamin D and a full spectrum light box), my mood can still be pretty low at times during the winter.
Over the years, I’ve developed a lot of simple little inexpensive tricks that help me lift my mood and I never rely on them more than I do this time of the year. They’re just little things I do that are designed with just two principles in mind. One, they need to be able to quickly improve my mood. Two, they need to cost next to nothing.
Here are sixteen of these tricks; they’re the ones that I think actually have the most universal appeal. Many of these seem to have a “winter” angle, but they work pretty well throughout the year. If you’re finding yourself down in the dumps, try a few of these things and see if they help.
Drink lots of water. This is probably my number one strategy for keeping my mood up. I find that there’s a pretty strong connection between drinking plenty of water and being in a good mood. The more water I drink, the better I feel about my life and the world around me. If I don’t drink much water, my mood slips.
Do some high-intensity exercise for a short time. Do something with enough intensity so that you find yourself panting for breath. Wait until you’re close to breathing normally, then do it again. Repeat a few times. Your blood will be pumping and full of endorphins that make you feel a lot better.
Maintain a playlist of uptempo songs that you like and play it when you need a boost. I maintain a playlist of Youtube videos consisting of uptempo songs that make me want to jump around, and when I’m feeling the winter blues, I’ll turn it on. I’ll often start doing household chores while the music is blaring and I find that my chore tempo gets faster and faster while my mood lifts. (The playlist has a lot of Queen in it.)
Eat a lot of eggs, milk, yogurt, and fish. These foods are strong sources of natural vitamin D, which is something your body is missing out on in the winter months. Sunlight’s interaction with your skin is a powerful source of vitamin D, but if the weather often drives you indoors, make sure that eggs, dairy, and fish are a part of your diet.
Stretch. One of the best things I do throughout a given day to simply feel better is to spend several minutes stretching. I stretch out my arms, my legs, my shoulders, my sides… basically every muscle group in my body. Stretching simultaneously dumps a bunch of endorphins into your bloodstream while also improving blood flow to the muscles in your body, which leaves you feeling great.
Read books you’ve missed out on, preferably in a spot with lots of natural lighting. I’m an avid reader and there are definitely times when I slow down with my reading during the summer months, leaving me a backlog of titles I want to read. During the winter, I get caught up (to a degree). Since we’ve done some minor home renovations, there’s a wonderful sunny spot to read during the day in our home and I’ve been taking advantage of it to catch up on some books I’m excited about.
Do social things. Find as many opportunities as possible in your life to spend time with other people, particularly people who make you feel good about yourself and the world. Go to community events. Spend time with friends who bring some positivity to the table. You’ll feel better simply being around other people.
Have a big “winter project.” Each winter, I try to select a “major project” of some kind that I want to complete by the end of the winter, and I make it my goal to spend at least some time each day moving forward on that project. This winter, for example, my goal is to set up a new office for myself in a different room in our home, move into that new office, and transform my old office into a bedroom. Many winters, my goal has centered around reading a particular book series. Just choose a project that you’ll have to knock off in little bits over the course of months.
Keep warm. One of the best ways to feel the winter blues is to feel cold at home, so I try to avoid that as much as I can. I dress warmly and comfortably at home all throughout the winter – layered clothing, hoodies, wool socks, and so on. Even when I want to go outside, it’s just a matter of putting on shoes and a coat most of the time. Feeling cold tends to equate to feeling down to me, so I try to keep it at bay.
Install and use some full spectrum lighting. In several rooms in our house, particularly ones that I spend significant time in, I have light bulbs installed that provide full spectrum lighting. These lights subtly fool your brain into thinking that you’re in a sunny area, even when you’re stuck inside working on a project.
Eat a lot of fruit when snacking. Rather than snacking on candy or unhealthy savory snacks, just keep a lot of fruit around for snacking. When you have the munchies, grab an apple or a banana or some berries from the fridge instead of some candy bits. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel over time.
Plan out and schedule your summer vacation. Whenever I’m feeling trapped inside by winter weather and a bit down about the seemingly endless winter, I spend some time plotting out my summer vacation. Envisioning fun in the summer sun in great detail is a pretty solid mood lifter, especially when that translates into taking action and setting plans in motion to make that fun a reality.
Turn on the fireplace if you have one. This ties into the “keep warm” strategy, but there’s something primal and valuable about looking into a fire. Get cozy near the flames and let yourself get warm and you’ll find your mood lift (even if you get a little sleepy, because fires usually make me think of nighttime and getting ready for bed).
Do some volunteer work, even if it’s super small scale. Just do something for someone else without any compensation or reward for yourself. It can be a big effort if you want, but it doesn’t have to be. You can spend a day working at a food pantry, or you can simply help someone load their groceries so they can get out of the cold a little faster. Just do something for someone and it will lift your mood.
Get close with other people. I mean this both in the physical sense and the emotional sense. In the physical sense, I mean cuddle up with a loved one. Touch each other. Hold each other close. In the emotional sense, I mean have a meaningful conversation with someone. Listen to what they’re saying. Get on their wavelength and try to help them with what they’re feeling. Both of those things are powerful mood lifters.
Start your meal off with a salad. Whenever you’re about to eat lunch or dinner, start off with a small salad of some kind, ideally centered on a mix of different vegetables. This puts something quite healthy in your belly right at the start of a meal. I find that eating healthy is a great way to lift one’s mood and a salad at the start of a meal lets you still enjoy whatever you want but makes sure that you don’t eat excessive amounts of unhealthy stuff later in the meal.
All of these tips have very little cost associated with them and are quite effective at elevating one’s mood. I use these methods to get through cold winters where I have to spend a lot of time indoors and other periods of my life where I feel a little melancholy. That being said, these are not a good substitute for treatment of mental health conditions; if you find yourself feeling blue for an extended period or find yourself feeling so down that it’s difficult to get through the day or get out of bed, contact a mental health professional.