The nights seem endless. Each day seems colder than the last- and being barefoot on a beach feels more and more like an impossible delusion with each passing minute. Winter is certainly in full swing in the Great White North and these dark, frigid days can have even the cheeriest of folk feeling the winter blues. But perhaps the general lethargy some of us are experiencing is not so unusual. In fact, depression, fatigue and ‘cabin fever’ are quite common during this time of the year.
There’s no denying that it can be more difficult to get motivated when you’re feeling so tired and well, ‘blah’ all the time. Plus, it means there’s a greater chance you’ll skip out on your fitness regimen and reach for the carb-heavy comfort food instead. What’s more, this winter lethargy, or what some have dubbed ‘February Fatigue’ can spill over into your work and/or study. And since no one wants a pink slip or a failing grade for being uncharacteristically lazy, try our favourite methods for nixing the winter blahs—er—blues.
Turn Up Your iPod: Listening to music can increase the production of serotonin and oxytocin in the brain. It can also have a calming effect on the mind during bouts of depression or anxiety. So the next time you’re feeling lethargic or down, throw on a few of your favourite tunes, particularly ones that make your feet tap and head bob!
Break a Sweat: As if you needed another reason to hit the gym, right? Exercise isn’t only good for staying svelte and strong. It’s also effective in relieving stress and tension—both mentally and physiologically—by encouraging the brain to release ‘feel good’ brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. Commit to breaking a sweat at least three times per week and we guarantee you’ll notice a difference in your mood and energy levels.
Don’t have gym access? No problem. Clear some space in your house and repeat this sequence three times:
40 jumping jacks
15 push ups
15 dips (use the couch or a steady chair)
45 second plank (2 repetitions)
Drink More H2O (And Less Vodka): Odds are you’re dehydrated right now and don’t even know it. In fact, an estimated 75 percent of North Americans are chronically dehydrated. That’s not good, considering that dehydration can increase blood pressure, which in turn increases stress. Aim to drink eight 8oz glasses of water per day to stay healthy and help boost your spirits.
Snack Sensibly: We know, we know. The dog days of winter have you craving nothing but pizza and chocolate chip cookies. But while sugar cookies aren’t exactly a food group (as they should be), there is some good news for foodies. When it comes to beating the winter blues, it’s actually important to eat regularly (can we get a Hallelujah?!). That said, it’s necessary to ditch the sugary, simple carbs and reach for starchy ‘good’ carbohydrates like porridge, quinoa, brown rice and veggies. Protein-rich foods like turkey, fish and eggs are also good choices and can help to increase serotonin production. As for the ‘happy’ vitamins to add to your cabinet? Many people find that taking an extra D-vitamin supplement in the morning helps them feel more alert during the dreary winter.
Embrace Winter Activities: Walking to the bus stop in negative 16 degree weather everyday makes looking forward to the cold unfathomable (looking at you, Toronto!). But taking up a winter-specific activity might actually help replace your negative feelings towards winter with enthusiasm. Set a day aside and try a winter sport like skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing. Bonus? Research has proven that despite the sub-zero temperatures, exercising outdoors can boost your mental well-being.
Use Your Sense of Smell: Researchers at the Center for Autoimmune recently discovered a link between sadness and our sense of smell. A recent study from Tel Aviv University determined that citrus scents, particularly lemon, helps to boost serotonin levels and decrease levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine. So for a quick mood boost, swap your regular perfume or cologne for a citrusy scent this winter (We love the Marc Jacobs unisex scent, ‘Lemon’.) Better yet? Stop by your local health food store and pick up some lemon essential oil to put in your baths or a handkerchief that you can occasional smell throughout the day.
Set a Goal: Remember that thing you’ve been meaning to do for the last few months or years? Well, the winter is a perfect time to start seriously considering doing it! Perhaps it’s a decorative project, a financial goal or finishing that scarf you started crocheting weeks ago. Whatever it is, commit to a time frame or deadline and then work towards it. Being goal-oriented is sure to help you feel more powerful and motivated in no time!
Of course, if your symptoms run deeper than just general sadness and lethargy during the grey winter, be sure to see your GP. Feelings of chronic fatigue, anxiety or depression are often characteristic of Seasonal Affective Disorder and can require more specific treatment.