Members of the center for social and cultural psychology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles share a few thoughts on the world outside the lab/ Quelques réflexions sur le monde proposées par les membres du centre de psychologie sociale et interculturelle de l'Université Libre de Bruxelles.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Defying the winter blues: get ready to rock the springtime!
psychologist Cliff Arnall stated 11 years ago that ‘Blue Monday’ (the 3rd
Monday of January) was the most depressing day of the year. The majority of people have broken their new-years
resolutions six to seven days into the New Year, and whatever was left of that holiday
happiness and family fun have kicked the bucket by then. Luckily, that
day has passed, and we’re now well on our way to spring. Days are noticeably
getting longer again (sunrise before 8am, yet sun down around 6pm, yay!), and
slowly we’re all feeling better, right? Or are you, like many of us secretly
do, still feeling that winter blues? If
you are, here are five scientifically
proven ways that can help you lift your spirit, and help you get ready to
rock the springtime.
Be it with a light box
(an artificial light) or by sitting in the sunlight more when you’re at home or
work, all the little bits help to provide you that extra dose of sunshine. Why
does this work to beat the blues? Several researchers have found a strong
correlation between depression and a lack of vitamin D (for a review, see
Anglin et al., 2013). You can increase your vitamin D levels by consuming it in
your diet, but the easiest and most efficient way of increasing the levels of
vitamin D is by sun exposure! Hence why a light box or increased sunlight will
help you. Why is vitamin D so important, I hear you ask? Well, one theory is
that vitamin D affects neurotransmitters such as serotonin, and how they work
in the brain. Serotonin is also known as the happy hormone, and is thought to
influence your mood, appetite and sleep amongst others. Very basically, you
could say that more serotonin means better mood. Therefore, researchers have
suggested that vitamin D, since it may also increase the amount of these
neurotransmitters, may help treat depression (Kjærgaard
et al., 2012).
2. Eat smarter
Yes, you heard that
right. EAT. Don’t go on a crazy rampage and eat all the chocolates and candies
you can get your hands on, but eat sensibly! Foods that are very rich in
carbohydrates like candy, can indeed provide temporary feelings of euphoria,
but can also ultimately increase feelings of anxiety and depression
(Tryson, Decant & Laugero, 2013). However, there are some foods that
can help you when you’re feeling down. As explained previously, Vitamin D plays
a big role in feelings of happiness. If you want to give this a shot, a few
foods rich in vitamin D are: fatty fish (like salmon, mackarel or sardines), butter,
meats and eggs (but in lower dosages in the latter two). Additionally, other
foods that may help boost your mood are those that boost the neurotransmitter serotonin.
In the list of foods that boost this hormone are milk, eggs, cheese and
For some people this
sounds like pure bliss, whereas others dread it like no other (especially in
winter). One study from 2005 suggests that walking fast for about 35 minutes a day five times a week
or walking fast for about 60 minutes a day three times a week, improved
symptoms of depression. However, if you dread going to the gym, try and make it
fun! You could combine your daily exercise with a hobby for example. If you
have a dog, take your dog for a long nice walk in a new area. If you like
photography, go take that camera outside and shoot all the little wonders that
winter brings. You like crafts? Go find inspiration or materials for your
crafts: go to the park (by foot!) and collect some things nature has to offer
that you can use for crafts (e.g. mason jars with leaves turned
into candles, pinecone
embellished candle holders, or many other great ideas) or take a hike to a nice location and sit
down and draw what you see! And so forth. In order words: try and take your
hobby outside. This does not only help you to go outside and absorb some of
that sunshine, it also gets you moving while doing the things you love.
Needless to say that on days where it is pouring down rain you might not feel
the urge to go outside, but surely you can open those curtains, turn up the
radio and dance your heart out in your living room. The moral of the story is:
find something you like doing, and get moving.
4. Turn up that music!
Listening to some
tunes on the radio or your favorite upbeat CD is also a way proven to increase
your mood, as long as the music is upbeat and cheery. Have a CD or radio
station you know what will blast some fun tunes? Turn it on, and enjoy! However,
it is important to make sure you’re not expecting the first song to swing your
mood around. As Ferguson (2013) explained: “Rather than focusing on how much
happiness they’ve gained and engaging in that kind of mental calculation,
people could focus more on enjoying their experience of the journey towards
happiness and not get hung up on the destination”.
5. Make fun spring and summertime
plans. Vacation planning, anyone?
Another way to
increase your mood is by making plans for spring/summer. Plan that vacation
you’re looking forward to. Especially this planning phase will help to boost
your mood: vacationers reported a higher degree of pre-trip happiness, compared
to non-vacationers, possibly because they are anticipating their holiday. Only
a very relaxed holiday trip boosts vacationers’ happiness further after return.
Generally, there is no difference between vacationers’ and non-vacationers’
post-trip happiness (Nawijn et al., 2010). In case you’re not planning on going
on a vacation due to budget or other constrains, maybe planning that day with
friends that you haven’t seen in a long time, or a nice family weekend to catch
up will also boost your mood.
So there you go, five
ways to boost your mood. So what are you waiting for? Turn off that computer,
tablet or phone, and go find happiness!
Maartje Mulders is a PhD Student at the Center
for Social and Cultural Psychology at ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
Anglin, R. E., Samaan,
Z., Walter, S. D., & McDonald, S. D. (2013). Vitamin D deficiency and
depression in adults: systematic review and meta-analysis. The British journal
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Ferguson, Y. L., &
Sheldon, K. M. (2013). Trying to be happier really can work: Two experimental
studies. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(1), 23-33.
Waterloo, K., Wang, C. E., Almås, B., Figenschau, Y., Hutchinson, M. S., ...
& Jorde, R. (2012). Effect of vitamin D supplement on depression scores in
people with low levels of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D: nested case–control study
and randomised clinical trial. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 201(5),
Nawijn, J., Marchand,
M. A., Veenhoven, R., & Vingerhoets, A. J. (2010). Vacationers happier, but
most not happier after a holiday. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 5(1),
Tryon, M. S., DeCant,
R., & Laugero, K. D. (2013). Having your cake and eating it too: a habit of
comfort food may link chronic social stress exposure and acute stress-induced
cortisol hyporesponsiveness. Physiology & behavior, 114, 32-37.