How To Be Happy In The Winter & Maintain Motivation Despite The Short, Dark Days

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As someone who grew up at least partially in Vermont, I should be used to dealing with severe winters, but the truth is, they've always been a struggle for me. When the temperature drops below an autumn chill and it starts getting dark, so goes my mood and motivation down with it. So while learning how to be happy in the winter continues to be a challenge for me, it's one I try to tackle gently by implementing self-care routines and asking for help when I need it.

And yes, many people tend toward depression and isolation in the winter months, which is believed in part to be a result of body rhythms getting out of whack due to changes in sunlight.

So if you're feeling low and slow as the months start to creep toward the depths of winter, and your motivation is dwindling with each passing day, remember there are always bright spots to be found among the darkness. That, and it's always a good idea to allot yourself some well-deserved "me time" when you're not feeling your best.

Elite Daily had the opportunity to speak with a few mental health and wellness pros, who have offered some great tips and suggestions for letting a little light into your life when the days start getting darker.

1Focus On Your Senses And Stay Present

Bianca Marcu, a licensed professional counselor at Clarity Clinic Chicago, tells Elite Daily about the importance of staying present and finding the simple sensual pleasures of the change in seasons:

One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to thinking about winter blues is that they become so preoccupied with thoughts of negatives outcomes, they forget to take moments to enjoy all the good that is going on around them.
Be present and aware as you gaze at holiday lights that are decorating the streets, smell the scent of warm coffee on a chilly morning, listen to music while you shop, savor every bite of your upcoming Thanksgiving meal.

It's a simple tip, but actively checking in with yourself on a daily basis and being present to experience all life has to offer can make a real, genuine difference in your mood.

2Welcome All Opportunities Of Physical Warmth Into Your Life

Maybe you'll decide to stay in on a chilly Saturday night to cuddle under a blanket, or you'll make it a regular thing after work or school to get really warm and cozy with a good book and your favorite cup of tea.

Marcu specifically suggests trying a particularly warm kind of exercise. She tells Elite Daily,

Experiment with a hot yoga class after work. Not only does it help calm and center your mind after a long day, it helps you say active while being mindful of mental health.

3Make Time For The People You Love, Even When You Crave Isolation

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Sure, I'm the first person to close my bedroom door and spend night after night alone with a book, especially when I'm feeling depressed or low on energy. But being around other people to share a meal, a laugh, and a little love is a super important part of feeling positive and connected through the darker months of the year.

Marcu shares,

Once it gets cold outside, people tend to want to avoid the cold and stay in a lot more often. Isolating yourself during a time that can already be challenging generally ends up with a decrease in mood.
Put effort into creating after-work routines with friends and family to give you that social connection and stimulation to balance out your day.
Take advantage of the holidays and do something seasonal that is only available during the winter, or simply schedule catch-up dates with friends and make it a routine and something that you can look forward to in the evening.

Ice skating and cocoa, anyone?

4Get Some Sun

Physical therapist Dr. Karena Wu, owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy, reminds us about the importance of catching some rays: "Twenty minutes of sun exposure is the minimum amount of time required for vitamin D production," she shares with Elite Daily.

Vitamin D helps mood, brain activity, and nervous system functioning, and when you don't have enough of it, you can definitely feel low.

5Move Your Body

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Dr. Wu also stresses the importance of maintaining physical exercise as part of your routine in the winter, even when it feels easier to put on slippers and curl up on the couch. A little movement will always help to improve your mood and well-being, and those benefits simply can't be overstated in the wintertime.

Dr. Wu tells Elite Daily,

Exercise helps increase circulation [and] core body temperature and releases endorphins. These feel-good hormones give you that "happy" feeling after working out, which help you combat the lows felt when the temperatures [drop] and the body wants to go into hibernation mode.

Don't let the dark evenings keep you from joining a dance class that you know, deep down, is going to make you smile big time.

6Remember Your "Why"

Professional counselor Amber Dee tells Elite Daily that this time of year is when she sees a lot more clients, and that a spike in depression or less motivation is really common.

Her suggestion? "Use vision boards to help stay on track of your 'why,'" she says, or your "raison d'être," as the French say.

This simply means don't forget about your reasons for being you: your favorite things, images of what makes you feel happiest and most vibrant, the people you love, the things you might want to accomplish, or the places you'd like to go.

Sure, maybe today you want to stay in with tea, but tomorrow might be the perfect day to take a trip with your best friend to a museum, inspired by that beautiful O'Keefe print you have in the center of your new vision board.

7Eat Nutritiously

While you might be more drawn to warmer and heavier foods this time of year (I know I am), make sure you're getting in your fair share of nutritious foods, and that you aren't only relying on treats to boost your mood.

Dr. David Greuner, co-founder of NYC Surgical Associates, tells Elite Daily,

Maintain a balanced diet, and try not to rely on sugar and caffeine; they may backfire later in the day causing you to crash even earlier as the days get shorter.

He adds that carb-heavy comfort foods can leave you feeling even more tired and lethargic than you already felt. That being said, you should absolutely still let yourself fully enjoy foods you like and that make you feel good.

So, as the winter draws ever nearer, try to implement some of these strategies to keep you feeling good. And in the midst of your winter blues, remember y'all: There is always a coming spring.