Mood-Boosting Exercises for Seasonal Depression

Mood-Boosting Exercises for Seasonal Depression

Mood-Boosting Exercises for Seasonal Depression 

The shorter, darker days of winter can drain anyone's mood. But about 10 million Americans struggle with winter-onset depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or the “winter blues.”[1] 

December has been designated as Seasonal Depression Awareness Month. This month aims to educate people about seasonal depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and various ways to manage its symptoms. 

SAD is a type of depression that is triggered by changes in seasons and is estimated to affect around 5% of the population in the United States. 

The shorter daylight hours during the fall and winter months can disrupt the body's internal clock and lead to biochemical changes in the brain that result in low mood, increased fatigue, and lack of motivation. 

Seasonal Depression Awareness Month plays an important role in shedding light on this condition and reducing the stigma around mental health issues. 

SAD is considered a subtype of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in fall or winter when there's less sunlight and easing up in spring. 

SAD can sap your energy and make you feel moody. Its symptoms are similar to other forms of depression and include[1]

  • Fatigue 
  • Lack of interest in normal activities 
  • Social withdrawal 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Changes in appetite and sleep 
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness 

The exact causes of SAD aren't fully understood. But research suggests it may be linked to reduced sunlight exposure, which can disrupt your body's internal clock and lead to feelings of depression[1]

The good news is several lifestyle tweaks and home remedies may help boost your mood, regain energy, and feel better overall. Let's explore some simple yet effective mood-boosting exercises for seasonal blues.

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a condition in which some people experience a significant mood change when the seasons change , most often in fall and winter.

Soak Up More Sunlight 

Since SAD is tied to shorter daylight hours and reduced sunlight exposure, it makes sense that getting more natural light is key. 

Aim to get outside for at least 30 minutes per day on sunny winter days[2]. Walking, jogging, yardwork, playing with your kids or pets, and even sitting on an outdoor bench soaking up some rays can help. 

Opening blinds, trimming tree branches, and adding skylights can also let more sunshine into your living and working spaces. Sit near windows whenever possible. 

Research shows bright light therapy is also effective for improving SAD symptoms[1]. Specialized light therapy boxes and lamps that emit up to 10,000 lux of light can have mood-boosting effects. Use them for 30 minutes daily[3]

Getting enough vitamin D – aka the “sunshine vitamin” —may also guard against seasonal blues. Fatty fish, eggs, fortified foods, and supplements can help you meet the 600 IU/day recommendation. A blood test can confirm if you're low in D. 

Be Physically Active 

Physical activity has well-proven mood-boosting powers. And getting your body moving counteracts the fatigue of SAD. 

Aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise like brisk walking, gentle cycling, water workouts, or gentle yoga[4][5]. Even light housework counts. But the key is staying consistent, even when you don’t feel like it. 

Also, try[4][5]

  • Joining an exercise class for social motivation 
  • Recruiting a friend for encouragement 
  • Mapping out routines for each day of the week 
  • Tracking activity via phone apps or wearables 
  • Scheduling time for exercise just like appointments 

The boosts of energy, joy, and accomplishment from regular movement go a long way in lifting the spirits

Practice Stress-Busting Activities 

The gloomy winter months come packed with obligations like parties, shopping, cooking, family visits, expenses, and packed schedules.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, stressed out, and depleted. Stress often goes hand-in-hand with feeling down or anxious. 

That’s why incorporating regular relaxing and stress-relieving activities is key for balancing mood. They help calm the body's stress response and lift your overall outlook. 

Effective stress busters include[6]

  • Meditation and breathwork. Just 5-10 minutes per day focusing on deep breaths. 
  • Soothing music or podcasts. Create go-to playlists for unwinding. 
  • Creative hobbies. Crafting, painting, or journaling enable self-expression. 
  • Calming stretches like gentle yoga, Tai Chi, or Pilates 
  • Nature immersion. Even just viewing pastoral scenes reduces stress. 
  • Warm baths by candlelight with Epsom salts or essential oils 

Don’t underestimate the power of simple pleasures like cuddling pets, savoring favorite hot drinks, or cozying up under soft blankets. Embracing “hygge” — the Danish concept of coziness and comfort — also offsets winter doldrums. 

Maintain Social Connections 

It's tempting to become a homebody and socially isolated when you feel down. But loneliness and lack of social interaction feed into feelings of depression

Staying close with supportive friends and family isn’t just warm and fuzzy - it has scientifically validated mood-lifting effects. 

Prioritize socializing through[7]

  • Regular catch-up calls or video chats 
  • Joining community groups related to hobbies/causes 
  • Planning ahead for holidays and celebrations 
  • Sharing funny memes or uplifting news 
  • Volunteering or helping people facing bigger challenges 

Even introverts need some degree of social time to stay balanced. Getting out of your bubble and offering support to others also boosts your sense of purpose. 

If one-on-one interactions feel intimidating, start small with quick grocery store chats or neighborly hellos before working up to lengthier visits. 

Engage In Therapeutic Creative Activities

Tapping into your inner creativity isn’t just fun - it enhances mental health and wellbeing. Immersing yourself in artistic pursuits helps you express feelings, problem-solve in new ways, and build a sense of accomplishment. 

Some therapeutic creative outlets to try[8]

  • Drawing and painting inspire free emotional expression 
  • Playing or listening to music reduces anxiety and tension 
  • Creative writing like journaling, poetry, or storytelling 
  • Handcrafts and DIY projects enable mental engagement 
  • Dance/movement relieves pent-up energy and emotions 
  • Cooking and baking for sensory pleasure and sharing 

Creativity also connects you to flow. Losing yourself in the process helps disrupt depressive rumination. Don’t worry about skill level or judging results. The point is immersing yourself in imaginative outlets you enjoy. 

Laugh More 

During the gloomy winter months it’s easy to overlook life’s funny moments. But giving yourself reasons to smile and laugh more often can work wonders for lifting the spirits[9]

Humor combats negative thinking plus boosts feel-good endorphins and neurotransmitters. It also sparks the relaxation response, soothing tension throughout the mind and body. 

Ways to tap into mirth

  • Play favorite comedy films or shows 
  • Share jokes and funny stories with friends 
  • Seek out humorous books or blogs 
  • Follow light-hearted social media feeds 
  • Try laughter yoga or funny YouTube videos 
  • Use props like silly costumes or props 

Laughter looses creativity too, helping you think outside the box instead of ruminating. Letting your spontaneous silly side emerge is healthy self-care, especially during glum months

Improve Sleep Habits 

Seasonal depression often goes hand-in-hand with poor sleep quality. In turn, insomnia exacerbates low mood and foggy thinking.

But you can offset this cyclic effect through better sleep hygiene habits, which help ensure you get enough restorative rest[10]

  • Maintain a regular bed/wake schedule, even on weekends 
  • Make your bedroom cool, dark, and gadget-free 
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine or alcohol before bedtime 
  • Soothe the nervous system via massage, music or meditation 
  • Express worries on paper earlier in the day to prevent ruminating 
  • Try magnesium, melatonin or calming herbs like chamomile 

Getting a daily dose of sunlight plus regular activity also helps normalize the sleep/wake cycle so you slumber more soundly. 

As energy improves through proper rest and reduced fatigue, so will your winter moodiness.

Eat Mood-Friendly Foods 

A healthy diet fuels both your body and mind. But when wintertime blues kick in, it’s easy to reach for sugary or refined carb comfort foods that destabilize mood further. 

Instead, what you eat makes a difference in energizing your system and balancing your outlook. Aim to incorporate more foods rich in key nutrients[11]

  • Protein like eggs, fatty fish, beans, and nuts for sustained energy 
  • Healthy fats from olive oil, avocado, and seeds to combat inflammation 
  • Fiber-rich fruits, veggies and whole grains feed good gut bacteria 
  • Vitamin C from citrus, peppers, leafy greens, berries for immunity and stress resilience 
  • Vitamin D & calcium via fortified milks, fatty fish and supplements 
  • Antioxidants in colorful produce help protect brain cells 
  • Magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins enable neurotransmitter synthesis
  • Probiotics and prebiotics from fermented foods boost gut/brain interactions 

A better diet sets the stage for improved mood, outlook and energy levels by supplying key building blocks. Fuel your body optimally so it can make the feel-good neurochemicals and hormones that combat the winter blues

Consider Supplements 

While a healthy whole foods diet should take precedence, certain supplements can help fill any nutritional gaps[12]

  • Vitamin D3 counteracts low sunlight exposure 
  • Magnesium and calcium ease moodiness related to PMS 
  • 5-HTP, derived from tryptophan, aids serotonin production
  • SAM-e, B complex & Omega-3 fish oils support neurotransmitter balance 
  • Probiotics benefit gut-brain connections 
  • Herbal remedies like St. John's Wort, lavender, chamomile and passionflower have traditionally been used for soothing nerves 

Always start with the lowest effective dose. Combining several synergistic ingredients often enhances benefits too. 

But check with your doctor before taking new supplements, especially if you take other medications or have health conditions. While side effects are generally mild, some supplements have interactions or cautions to consider. Tracking symptoms helps gauge optimal dosing. 

Practice Gratitude & Optimism 

When you're stuck in gloomy thoughts or ruminating over what’s lacking in life, it distorts your worldview. Everything can start looking bleak, which worsens feelings of sadness, discontentment, or even self-pity[13]

That's why actively cultivating gratitude, positivity, and optimism serves as an emotional reset button. Appreciating the good still present around you combats the tunnel vision tendency of depression to only see negatives. 

Ways to spark more gladness and hope[13]

  • Start a daily gratitude journal listing 3-5 things you’re thankful for 
  • Share verbal appreciation and praise with loved ones often 
  • Post inspirational quotes and affirmations around your home 
  • Spend time in nature observing its beauty and wonder 
  • Volunteer to help uplift others facing bigger life challenges 
  • Make a collage with photos of people and things that lift your spirit 
  • Sing, dance and move your body to boost energy and joy 
  • Give yourself credit for small accomplishments and efforts 

In essence, you cultivate the states of being, emotions and thoughts you focus on. Regularly redirecting attention to the positive prevents getting stuck dwelling on the dreary. 

In A Nutshell 

As winter days start getting longer and brighter, seasonal depression symptoms should lift for most sufferers. Incorporating healthy lifestyle habits, home remedies, and a proactive self-care routine helps banish the winter blues more quickly.

But if low mood, fatigue, and lack of motivation persist for many months or severely impact work/relationships, consult your doctor or mental health professional. Other forms of depression or underlying factors may require more targeted treatment

The key is being patient and gentle with yourself while tapping into solutions that gradually uplift your outlook. Expecting an immediate mood miracle sets you up for disappointment and self-blame if it doesn’t happen. 

Instead, by consistently taking small actions to care for your mind, body, and spirit, you leverage the power of incremental change. In turn, you’ll feel more in control of recapturing stable well-being instead of remaining hostage to seasons. 

References: 

[1] Walrath-Holdridge, Mary. “Are You SAD? What to Know about Seasonal Affective Disorder, Treatments as Sunlight Fades.” USA TODAY, USA TODAY, 14 Nov. 2023, www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2023/11/14/seasonal-depression-affective-disorder-sympt oms-treatment/71567288007/. 

[2] https://www.facebook.com/WebMD. “Health Benefits of Getting Outside.” WebMD, 2023, www.webmd.com/balance/ss/slideshow-health-benefits-nature

[3] Watt, Anthony. “How Does Light Therapy Treat Depression?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 10 Dec. 2013, www.healthline.com/health/depression/light-therapy

[4] CDC. “How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need? .” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 June 2023, www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm

[5] “How Much Exercise Do You Really Need?” Mayo Clinic, 2023, 
www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/exercise/faq-20057916

[6] Heckman, William. “15 Stress-Reducing Activities You Can Do at Home, according to Experts - the American Institute of Stress.” The American Institute of Stress, May 2020, www.stress.org/15-stress-reducing-activities-you-can-do-at-home-according-to-experts

[7] “Social Connections Key to Maintaining Mental Well-Being.” Psychiatry.org, 2023, www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/social-connections-key-to-maintaining-mental-well

[8] “Creative Arts: Enhancing Mental Health and Well-Being.” Psychiatry.org, 2023, www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/creative-arts-enhancing-mental-health

[9] Robinson, Lawrence. “Laughter Is the Best Medicine.” HelpGuide.org, 3 Nov. 2018, www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm.

[10] Health. “Mood and Sleep.” Vic.gov.au, 2022, 
www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/Mood-and-sleep

[11] Fulghum, Debra. “Depression and Diet.” WebMD, WebMD, June 2008, www.webmd.com/depression/diet-recovery

[12] “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” NCCIH, NCCIH, 2019, 
www.nccih.nih.gov/health/seasonal-affective-disorder

[13] Titova, Liudmila, Audrey E. Wagstaff, and Acacia C. Parks. "Disentangling the effects of gratitude and optimism: A cross-cultural investigation." Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 48.5 (2017): 754-770.

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