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6 Ways to Boost Your Mood on Dark, Cold Days

If you’re busting out your puffer, it means that the bone-chilling days of winter have arrived—and for about a quarter of Canadians, it also signals a time of year when our mood takes a serious dip. Beyond the “normal” frustration associated with the unpleasant parts of the season (snowstorms, frigid temps), the exact cause of the winter blues remains uncertain. Experts hypothesize that fewer daylight hours reduce our serotonin levels (our happy hormone), cause an overabundance of melatonin (the hormone we secrete when it gets dark) and disrupt our circadian rhythm (our sleepwake cycle). While we wait for science to get to the bottom of it, indulge in these mood-boosting tips to help you feel happier this winter.

Take a gut check
Up to 90 per cent of serotonin is produced in your gut, not your brain. (Mind-blowing, right?). “So to keep you calm and happy, you want really good bugs in your gut,” says Desiree Nielsen, a Vancouver-based registered dietitian and author of Un-Junk Your Diet. “The way to do that is to eat as many plant foods as possible to get tons of fibre, which feeds happy bacteria.” And those “good” bacteria help maintain consistent levels of tryptophan, which helps metabolize and synthesize serotonin. When you’re shopping for probiotic supplements, Nielsen recommends that you look for one with Lactobacillus strains, choose a refrigerated brand (unless it’s declared to be shelf-stable) and aim for a daily serving of at least 10 billion bacteria.

Walk it off
Keep racking up the steps on your Apple Watch: The American Psychological Association recommends taking a walk outside to reduce negative symptoms for those who have mild winter blues. And, really, when is exercise not a good idea?

Listen carefully
Listening to breakup songs might actually be a good idea on a wintry day. Research published in PLOS One suggests that many of us are attracted to tear-jerkers because they induce pleasant nostalgia. These unexpectedly warm and fuzzy feelings could also be the result of hormones: According to a study from Ohio State University, sad music can raise our prolactin levels to prepare us for a perceived emotional threat, offering comfort that sticks around longer than the three-minute song does. Other studies do, however, suggest that sad music will make you sadder, so proceed with caution, friends.

Turn on the lights
Light therapy is among the most popular and effective treatments for the winter blues. Experts say that one way it works by suppressing the production of melatonin when used in the morning, which helps you feel happier and more awake. Philips’ GoLite Blu mimics a sunny sky and uses bright-blue wavelength light (instead of frequently used white), which is the most energizing of hues. Bonus: You can pop it into your Outdoor Voices tote with ease.

Scent your space
Citrus scents have long been used to boost your mood and reduce stress. In 18th-century Japan, people would add yuzu fruit to their bathwater to nourish the body and mind during the winter solstice. If you’d rather eat your clementines than bathe with them, try filling your surroundings with Saje Liquid Sunshine Cheerful Diffuser Blend (a blend of lime, grapefruit, orange, mandarin and bergamot essential oils).

Try a rhodiola supplement
Rhodiola is a type of adaptogen—a class of herbs that could minimize the effects of stress on the body. “There’s evidence to support that taking rhodiola can lead to a noticeable decrease in fatigue and depression,” says Nielsen. Emerging research on the herb suggests that the boost comes from a combined effort of lowering cortisol while increasing serotonin. Keep in mind that even though herbal products are sold over the counter, you should talk to your pharmacist or doctor before taking any.

Wondering if you have Season Affective Disorder?
There’s a difference between feeling down on a dull day and having seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which presents itself as recurrent mild to severe depression at the beginning of winter that vanishes come spring. Though we’ve come to almost expect the winter blues, here are some signs that you should see your doctor: Fatigue, oversleeping, less energy, trouble concentrating, apathy, feeling of hopelessness, isolation, weight gain.