It’s cold around the holidays, but there’s also excitement in the air—bubbly to pop, resolutions to rock (and the twinkling decorations everywhere certainly don’t hurt).
But after the last of the Christmas trees have been hauled off the streets, a lot of us fall into a when-is-it-going-to-be-spring? slump, skipping morning workouts, blowing off friends, and wanting nothing more than to curl up in bed. And sometimes, it’s serious.
“People generally say the winter cold brings on the winter blues, but it’s more than just the blues. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a clinical diagnosis related to the shortening of daylight hours; it disrupts our body’s circadian rhythm and biological clock,” explains Joe Taravella, PhD, a clinical psychologist and co-director of psychology intern training at Rusk Rehabilitation at the NYU Langone Medical Center.
Symptoms of SAD include anxiety, fatigue, decreased energy, and difficulty concentrating or sleeping—and if you’re feeling any of these, you should speak with your doc right away, Dr. Taravella urges.
But whether you fall into that camp, or just aren’t feeling like your usually cheery self, here are four super easy things that can help give you an instant happiness boost, and keep you that way:
1. Try a light box. No, really. Light box therapy couldn’t be simpler, but experts believe it can have big effects on the brain in this time of dark, short days. “It’s meant to mimic daylight, and it’s been shown to be an effective treatment,” Dr. Taravella says. Start by sitting near the box for 30 minutes a day while you’re doing work (we can totally see your colleagues wanting in on your healthy rays) or hanging out at home, he suggests. There are lots of models out there, so experiment until you find one you like best. This one costs $39.95.
2. Stay close to the windows. Instead of closing the blinds and planting yourself in front of your computer for a Netflix binge, keep the shades open and try sitting closer to the brightest windows in your home, suggests Dr. Taravella. Dim lighting might sound cozy, but when it comes to boosting happiness, think light, light, (natural) light!
3. Whatever you do, don’t skip your workout. “People often miss out on their walking, jogging, and running time during the winter, [but] if you can fit that in, in any way, it really helps maintain energy throughout the day,” Dr. Taravella says—plus, it’s a serious stress reliever. As for popping into a dark or even candlelit yoga or spin studio if that’s your thing? Totally cool in his book. “Any kind of exercise is definitely helpful,” Taravella says.
4. And don’t neglect your BFFs. Yes, it’s easier to meet up for a healthy stroll (or happy hour) when it’s 75 degrees out, but fight the urge to empty your social calendar when the temps are at their lowest, Dr. Taravella warns. “Making plans will force you out of your home environment and ultimately keep you socially engaged and feeling connected with others,” he says. “Even if it’s brutal getting from one place to another.” Bundle up, go forth, and socialize! —Molly Gallagher
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