Let’s be honest: There’s nothing fun about the “falling back” portion of Daylight Savings Time. Turning the clocks back an hour means darker days and longer nights, which can often make for a rough transition for some people. The onset of winter can also cause Seasonal Affective Disorder — or SAD — to kick in, a very real condition that affects more than 10 million Americans (75 percent of which are women).
According to research, where you live plays a big role in how you deal with darker days — East Coasters, for example, are way more likely to be affected by SAD than folks who live in sunnier climes like Florida, California or Arizona, and are more at risk for things like depression, social withdrawal, lethargy, and anxiety once it starts to get darker earlier.
Why? It mostly has to do with the fact that when we detect darkness, a small gland in our brain called the pineal releases melatonin, which is responsible for our sleep cycles, so our bodies are being forced to be awake when the brain thinks it should be asleep.
When we detect light, conversely, our melatonin levels wane and serotonin takes over, which is a natural mood elevator.
Even if you don’t suffer from from full-on SAD symptoms — which can be treated with the use of light boxes that mimic outdoor light and can cause a chemical shift in our brains that lifts our moods — you’ve probably felt down at some point or another throughout the winter.
Here, we’ve highlighted how to be happy during the bleak winter months by laying out four ways to naturally boost your mood:
Make Time to Move
It may seem intuitive, but exercise really does boost your mood and energy levels. According to the Mayo Clinic, even a short workout at the gym or a brisk walk can do the trick, as physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that usually leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. Winter workouts also can make you feel better about your appearance, which in turn, boosts confidence.
Not really a gym person? Make it a point to walk for 30 minutes on your way home from work, around your block, or around a park. On weekends, recruit a friend, a sibling or your boyfriend/girlfriend to make it fun.
Eat Whole Foods
Yeah, you always hear about the benefits of eating clean and shunning things like processed and sugary foods, white flour, and artificial sweeteners, but it’s extra-true this time of year. Processed foods and sugar have been proven to cause inflammation and drops in mood and energy.
Instead, it’s key to eat plenty of leafy greens, lean protein, good fats, and complex carbs, as these macronutrients help keep our blood sugar levels in check, according to MindBodyGreen. When they plummet, so does our mood! Good fats like olive oil, avocado — even a little dark chocolate — as well as complex carbs like whole grains and brown rice also help to create feel-good serotonin.
Cook Dinner on Weeknights
For those of us who get winter blues, weekday nights can be an especially difficult time. You’re done with work, and a long night stretches ahead. One way to fill it? Cook dinner! Ordering in night after night can be depressing, so make it a point to head to the supermarket after work a few nights a week and make your own dinner. Put on music, relax, and just enjoy it.
Keep Drinking (Water, People)
Dehydration has been shown to cause agitation, fatigue and general unpleasantness, so keep a large bottle of water at your desk and sip throughout the day. If you’re freezing and craving something hot, drink green tea, which is packed with antioxidants due to its high content of flavonoids.
Conversely, don’t drink too much booze: While a glass or two of wine may actually help you relax occasionally and can have some health benefits, too much alcohol has been proven to be a serious-mood buster. Plus, morning hangovers will not help you feel great about the day ahead.