Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Defying the winter blues: get ready to rock the springtime!

The British 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.



1. Sunlight

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 legumes.


3. Exercise

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 of psychiatry, 202(2), 100-107.

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.

Kjærgaard, M., 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), 360-368.

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), 35-47.

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.

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