Five tricks for beating the winter blahs

The end of winter can be the worst. Don’t worry, it’s almost over! And until then, we’ve got easy ways to boost your spirits now.

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This article is the first in a week-long series dedicated to beating the winter blahs. 

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Wriggling into snow pants doesn’t count as exercise. Photo, iStock.

You’d think that as Canadians we’d have made peace with the inevitability of winter’s yearly chill by now. But sometime around February, when the thick, fairy-like snowflakes of the holidays are replaced by a muddy-grey sludge on the ground, things start to get, shall we say, real: We wear out the print on our snooze buttons, subsist solely on bottom-drawer bonbons and start to wonder in earnest whether we’ll ever see the sun again.

We see you, winter sufferers, and we want to help. While we can’t offer red-eye flights to a Turks and Caicos timeshare, we did come up with a few solutions to some common February blahs. Hopefully, these will tide you over until we all finally emerge from the frigid earth like euphoric t-shirt-sporting groundhogs sometime around late March. (Okay, April.)

The blah: Your idea of exercise is wriggling into snow pants.

The boost: Braving the wind and snow may seem like one big, frigid resistance workout, but keeping up with regular, moderate exercise is one of the best ways to keep blues at bay. (Hello, endorphins!) Winter sports such as skating, skiing and even curling make for excellent sources of cardio, as your body is forced to burn more calories to maintain a healthy temperature. That being said, we won’t blame you for refusing to jog outside in a season where you can lose 50 per cent of your body heat simply from forgetting your toque at home. Mercifully, the Internet is packed with loads of potential at-home workouts — whether found on YouTube or here on Chatelaine.com. (You could also go the retro route and dust off your Buns of Steel VHS. These are desperate times; no judgment.)

The blah: There are Little Debbie snack cakes where your abs used to be.

The boost: It’s not at all uncommon for us to make like walruses and medicate our seasonal woes with fatty foods. Conveniently, winter is a perfect storm of enticing carb-laden options with which to facilitate our sub-zero binges — namely, advent calendars, Valentine’s treats and Timbits from enabling coworkers. Instead of plugging an IV of pure white sugar directly into your forearms, trick your body into health by substituting healthy ingredients into your favourite comfort foods. By adding butternut squash to mac and cheese, for example, you’ll get all the rib-sticking satisfaction of a filling, warm meal without the 31 flavours of malaise and blood-sugar spikes.

The blah: Darkness is closing in.

The boost: Serotonin — a heavyweight in the “happy hormone” family — controls mood, regulates hunger and affects our overall sense of wellbeing, so it’s no wonder that we tend to feel like walking, talking garbage when its production slows during the long, dark days of winter. Exposure to light lamps — a treatment called “phototherapy” — has proven effective in alleviating the sluggishness associated with diminished time spent in the sun. Of course, it’s not as simple as repeating positive mantras in front of a lightbulb, but there are plenty of clinically approved models on the market for you to make your own. (This one from Philips was featured in our January issue.)

The blah: Blankets > friends.

The boost: There isn’t really a sophisticated scientific remedy for this one — your friends like you, and they’ll be sad if you replace them with Netflix and a fluffy duvet. One great way to stay socially connected during the winter is to pair up with a friend for classes. Groupon sends great discounted options on the regular, such as cooking nights or painting workshops (with wine!), and the buddy system holds you accountable. The sun will come out tomorrow, and so should you: you made plans, darn it.

The blah: You’re depressed. 

The boost: There’s a big difference between feeling a tinge of February funk and suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a clinical condition associated with consistently low energy levels, irritability and, in serious cases, depression. Women are disproportionately affected by SAD, too — eight times more than men, in fact — so if you start to feel like your winter experience is becoming more than mild drudgery, or that your work and home lives are impacted in noticeable ways, be sure to contact your doctor or a mental-health professional.