5 Ways To Beat The Winter Blues If Cold Weather Just Isn't Your Thing, According To An Expert

Winter is coming. Perhaps you hear eerie horror music playing in your head when you read that statement, because the promise of shorter days and colder temperatures can just do that to a person. While there are many cozy parts of winter to look forward to — like tiny marshmallows in hot cocoa, sweater sales, and using the cold as an excuse to curl up with a book all weekend — it's no secret that many of us get emotionally low in the winter. So having tools and simple ways to beat the winter blues is a stellar practice as the snowflakes begin to fall.

But before I get into some of those strategies, it's important to point out the difference between regular winter blues, and a condition called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). An overview of the condition, published in the journal Depression Research and Treatment, defines SAD as "a recurrent major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern" that usually begins in the fall, and lasts well into the winter months. In other words, SAD is a diagnosable mental health condition, and while most people can relate to the general feeling of "winter blues" — the low energy from lack of sunlight, the discomfort you feel walking through the bitter cold, etc. — it's a totally different situation when that sadness affects a person's ability to function day to day, and warrants a legitimate diagnosis from a mental health professional.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), SAD is more common in women, and it tends to happen more frequently to people who live in areas where winter is especially rough or long (i.e. think people who live far away from the equator). To that point, the NIMH states that about 9 percent of people who live in places like New England or Alaska suffer from SAD.

If you're not sure whether your wintertime sadness is a case of SAD or the winter blues, it never hurts to consult your doctor or make an appointment with a trained mental health professional. But if you know you're dealing with run-of-the-mill winter blues, here are a few expert tips to help balance out your mood during the changing seasons.

Find Time For Natural Light Every Day

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It might be hard to get outside when it's dark, or when the weather is so chilly that it feels like you're walking straight into a wall of cold glass. But for the sake of your health, Dr. Frank Lipman, a doctor who specializes in functional medicine, nutrition, and herbal medicine, says you should definitely make time in your daily routine for natural sunlight.

According to Dr. Lipman, the light will not only help to reset your body's internal clock, it'll also boost your mood. "Just a few minutes of sunlight a day during the winter helps with winter blues," he tells Elite Daily in an email. "Take a coffee break outside, or sit in a room with the most sunlight." Heck, even getting the window seat on the bus is better than getting no sunlight at all, you know?

Exercise (And If You're Feeling Brave, Do It Outside)

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It's the truth, y'all: According to Dr. Lipman, movement makes you feel better. You don't have to hit the gym for two whole hours, BTW, or anything close to that. Make time for exercise in any way you can, the doctor recommends, and you'll definitely notice a change in your mood.

"Exercise helps boost serotonin levels, a brain chemical that regulates feelings of well-being," he tells Elite Daily. "Exercising outdoors during the winter is a great mood booster, and it doesn't take as long, as you’re using more energy to help maintain your core temperature."

Eat Foods That Nourish Your Brain And Your Body

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I, too, have had peanut butter cake and four cans of seltzer delivered to my apartment on an off day in the winter when it was too cold to go outside. Sometimes, as far as I'm concerned, just doing you and eating whatever the heck you want is self care.

Still, eating literally whatever you want, on a daily basis, probably doesn't guarantee you a one-way ticket to anything besides a stomach ache, so Dr. Lipman says that being mindful of, and honoring your body's nutritional needs can establish a great foundation for a positive mood in the winter (and all year-round, really).

"Avoid sugars and sleep-inducing carbs, and add in supplements such as vitamin D, magnesium, and fish oils," he explains. "Vitamin D keeps brain chemistry and neurotransmitter action at optimal levels. Fish oils are thought to elevate mood and decrease depression, so they are good to take during the winter months."

Go Easy On The Wine

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Sure, it might seem like a good idea to have hot toddy after hot toddy to drown out the winter doldrums, but in the long run, Dr. Lipman says this can really wreak havoc on your emotional balance, so it's best to drink responsibly and in moderation.

"Alcohol compounds winter blues, depresses mood, and disrupts sleep, so keep your alcohol intake to a minimum during the winter," he recommends.

Treat Yourself (Seriously, Just Do It)

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According to Dr. Lipman, a great way to beat the winter blues is to simply take care of yourself, and to do so in creative ways. For instance, he recommends treating yourself to something like a massage, a spa day, or even just a hot bath at home.

If you're in the mood for some real warmth, I personally just went to a place called ShapeHouse — which describes itself as an "urban sweat lodge" — for an hour-long session, during which I was all wrapped up like a little burrito in infrared blankets. My muscles felt amazing afterward, and my mood was so much calmer, too.

Whatever you do to treat yourself, Dr. Lippman says it's all about "giving your body a little extra pampering," and "really doing what makes your body feel good."