9 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues without Breaking the Bank

9 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues without Breaking the Bank
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Studies suggest that up to 20% of us suffer at least a mild degree of winter blues. For an estimated 10 million Americans, the blues are bad enough to be diagnosed as Seasonal Affective Disorder. Here are some budget-friendly tips and tricks for maintaining your sanity through this last bit of winter.

Before we get to the tips, though, I want to point out two very important things:

1) We are not medical professionals. We don't believe there's anything dangerous on our list, but it's not a substitute for actual medical advice.

2) You should never, ever self-diagnose Seasonal Affective Disorder or any other medical condition.

Steal yourself some sunshine.

Flickr / Ecothyrus

Flickr / Ecothyrus

Cats don't just like the sunny spot on the floor because it's warm - it's also how they get their vitamin D. And guess what? The same goes for us humans as well. Sunlight on exposed skin triggers production of Vitamin D, which in turn aids in your body's absorption of calcium (to strengthen bones) and lowers blood pressure. That last bit is important for our purposes today since stress and depression often go hand in hand with hypertension. Plus, some recent studies suggest (but don't definitively prove) that Vitamin D may play a role in maintaining your mental health.

Some people swear by full-spectrum light bulbs (this one is $9.05 per light bulb on Amazon), but going for a walk during your lunch hour is the most cost-effective solution, doubling as an opportunity to take a breather from whatever office drama might be stressing you out at the moment.

Give your serotonin a boost.

Just what does serotonin do, anyway? Well, for starters, it plays a role in regulating your appetite and affects your perception of pain. A lack of serotonin can trigger depression,  anxiety, reduced motivation, migraines, high blood pressure, and stomach issues. On the flip side, having a lot of serotonin makes you happy. Knowing this, finding ways to get more serotonin into your system is a no-brainer approach to treating your winter blues.

So, how can you boost your serotonin levels naturally? Experts recommend tryptophan-rich foods like turkey, milk and egg whites. Why tryptophan? Because your body needs this natural amino acid in order to make serotonin. Bonus effect: Tryptophan improves the quality of your sleep, which is bound to help your mood as well.

Then of course, there's sugar. There's a reason chocolate just feels so good! Sweets trigger the release of serotonin - but it's a short burst and burns itself out pretty quickly. On the other hand, you can give yourself a more sustained lift by adding foods to your diet that slowly release sugars into your bloodstream as they're digested. Complex carbohydrates like basmati rice, sweet potatoes, and fruit all fit the bill.

So to recap, the magic combo here is to pair a tryptophan-rich protein like turkey with complex carbs like sweet potatoes. No wonder we all feel so relaxed after Thanksgiving dinner.

Limit alcohol and caffeine.

Flickr / Marco Arment

Flickr / Marco Arment

I readily admit that I find the mere suggestion of giving these up a little depressing since I run on coffee and find it hard to resist a glass of fine red wine, but it's also easy to see why it's one of the most common suggestions for fighting SAD. Alcohol is a depressant that can worsen your mood. Caffeine is a stimulant, but can lead to anxiety and muscle tension.

Replace both with a cup of hot herbal tea. My personal favorite is Aveda Comforting Tea, which runs $19 for a box of 20 tea bags at Nordstrom - just a wee bit expensive for a box of tea! Try this recipe from Beauty Check Blog to recreate it on the cheap:

DIY Aveda Comforting Tea

  • 1-1/4 cup licorice root
  • 1 cup dried peppermint leaves
  • 1/8 cup fennel
  • 1/8 cup dried basil

Get some exercise.

Fit in a workout to boost your endorphins - outdoors if possible for the extra light exposure. If you're stuck inside, at least try to grab a treadmill (or stationary bike, elliptical, stair climber, etc.) near a window so you get a bit of sunlight while you sweat. To paraphrase the immortal words of Elle Woods, "Exercise makes endorphins. Endorphins make you happy!"

Or you could pick up some yoga gear and take a class. The asanas and other poses are physically challenging and the ambiance of a yoga studio is meant to be meditative and relaxing.

Take a vacation.

The ideal winter vacation can go two ways, and both have their own blues-beating benefits.

The obvious choice is heading south to hit the beach. Days are longer and warmer nearer the equator, so you'll get more light, pleasant temperatures, and a relaxing pool-side atmosphere. You can take a four-night cruise around Mexico's balmy waters for just $179 right now through BookingBuddy.

Less obvious, however, is hitting the ski slope. While it is a classic winter vacation, you may not have thought about it quite like this: Not only will you be getting some exercise (skiing is work!), but you'll be getting plenty of sunlight on the slopes.

Give alternative medicine a try.

St. John's Wort, SAMe, Melatonin, 5-HTP and Omega-3 fatty acids are all classic homeopathic depression treatments. While they haven't been approved by the FDA to treat clinical depression, anecdotal evidence is plentiful and all are available over the counter as herbal supplements. I'm guessing that a little belief goes a long way with these, too. Sometimes a placebo effect is just as powerful as the real thing, and if that works for you, well then why not?

Make time for some romance.

Flickr / Guian Bolisay

Flickr / Guian Bolisay

Oxytocin is called the "cuddle hormone" because it's released when we feel loved and happy. It's also been linked to cardiovascular and immune system health. So, pack the kids off to a babysitter and spend some quality time with the love of your life to boost your oxytocin levels.

Of course, according to Prevention, you could also do things like hug your kids, watch tearjerker movies, or sing karaoke. Weirdly, checking Facebook is also on Prevention's list.

Get a massage.

A lot has been said about the healing power of touch, and science agrees. Massage therapy reduces cortisol (a hormone linked to stress) and increases serotonin and dopamine. In other words, it soothes anxiety, eases muscle pain, relieves headaches, reduces blood pressure, improves your sleep and at least one study links it to improved immunity. Check out Spa Week to find massage deals that are up to 75% off.

Remember happy events.

A British study recently found that recalling happy memories helped to ease symptoms of depression. So maybe it's a good time to arrange a reunion with your college buddies. Or perhaps you could finally get to work on your vacation scrapbook, which means going through all of those happy photos you took.

How do you like to beat the winter blues? Give us your best tips in the comments below!

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