For many of us, winter is in full swing. And although in our minds we’d like to think of wintertime as an idyllic snow-covered wonderland, the reality of the situation is that a lot of us are struggling during this season.

The so-called “winter blues” became a common concept for a reason. As the days get shorter and colder, so many of us become easily tired, unmotivated, and unproductive.

So if you’ve been struggling to find the positive vibrations within you, if you’ve been feeling sluggish and generally less motivated during the grey and wet winter months, know that you’re not alone.

Mental health experts suggest that hormonal changes due to a lack of daylight are the primary cause of the winter blues and the more extreme case of winter depression, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

There are also many other reasons that can contribute to an overall feeling of being down in the dumps. It takes some observant introspection to pinpoint the things that are bringing you down so that you can find relief.

In this post, we’ll go over the various factors that contribute to the winter blues and offer mindful tips to help you stay motivated and positive this winter season.

1. Focus on the present moment and tune in to your senses

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The thing with winter blues (and any other kind of blues for that matter) is that we tend to get wrapped up in our negative thoughts and feelings of apathy. Therefore, it gets progressively more challenging to find our way out. Without a bit of mindfulness and a conscious effort to direct our mindset to benefit our wellbeing, the negative energy builds up from within.

Changing your mindset and trying to uplift yourself consciously is hard work. However, even the tiniest spark makes a massive difference in your life. The best place to start is by reminding yourself to focus on all the good that’s presently going on around you.

Indulge your senses and acknowledge the joys of winter; the sharp tingle of fresh winter air, the warm light of Christmas decorations, the smell of scented candles, the taste of hot cocoa, the sounds of the Christmas market. These are all simple things. When you pay attention, you’ll glimpse beyond the dark and wet into a kinder, gentler world surrounding you.

2. Grab every bit of sunshine you can

The lack of daylight means a lack of sunshine – which means a lack of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is an important nutrient for mood regulation and maintaining proper functioning of the nervous system.

To produce Vitamin D, our bodies need to absorb at least 20 minutes of sunshine daily. Many of us don’t even get this much during the winter, as we get up before sunrise and finish work after sunset. This practice doesn’t just sound and feel downright glum. Scientific research suggests it contributes to depression as Vitamin D production decreases.

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So whenever you can, grab the opportunity and soak in some precious rays – whether it’s during lunchtime at work, by going outdoors on short breaks despite the cold, or taking time to connect with nature during the weekend.

If there’s hardly any sunshine to absorb, you might want to consider vitamin D supplements to compensate.

3. Overcome the obstacles and get moving

There’s no way around it – physical activity is crucial to our mental health. A short burst of exercise just to get your heart pumping is one of the best ways to naturally boost dopamine, the neurotransmitter which is responsible for the feeling of pleasure, motivation, focus, and even euphoria.

Incidentally, we’re usually a lot less active during the winter months, so a lack of physical activity becomes both the cause and the effect of the winter blues. Another contributing factor is that we confine ourselves to the indoors, letting our bodies become inert and consequently our minds as well.

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The best thing you can do is minimize the obstacles – if the gym is too far away and the slow traffic is taking too much time and effort, switch up your routine. Try running around the block, exercising at home, or try some new activity that’s close to your home or work. The latter has an added motivation-boosting benefit because immersing yourself in a new activity will keep you busy, bring the excitement of trying something new and make you feel good about yourself.

4. Stock up on nutritious food

There are two issues, nutrition-wise, that contribute to the winter blues. Firstly, there’s not much fresh produce available in the supermarkets during the winter season, so we have to put in extra effort to eat healthfully and get all the nutrients we need to feel our best.

With the lack of fresh fruits and veggies, shift your focus to fermented foods such as pickled peppers or sauerkraut to get plenty of energizing vitamins and maintain a healthy immune system. Cook with various spices and choose foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and B-vitamins, both of which are essential for brain functioning and mental health.

5. Eat mindfully

The second issue with nutrition and the winter blues is, of course, the holidays and all the tempting goodies at the office party, the family dinner, the supermarket, and wherever you turn.

If you feel sluggish and stuffed from all these foods, along with a bit of guilt on your plate that’s just weighing you down, it’s time for a small change of your mindset that’s going to bring big benefits.

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The key here is to eat mindfully and find balance. Indulge in holiday food and enjoy each bite.

Don’t feel guilty – guilt doesn’t get us anywhere, and it usually results in more destructive behavior. But when you promise to treat your body with kindness, and savor each bite slowly with mindfulness rather than gulping down as much as you can, you’ll form a healthier, more sustainable relationship with holiday food. This, in turn, will make for a much more energetic, joyful, and guilt-free holiday season.

6. Socialize

Socializing might be the last thing you feel like doing when everything seems overwhelmingly depressing, but at some point, human contact will be just what you need. So, will yourself to meet up with friends, have a walk in fresh air, or cozy up together and enjoy the winter delights.

Offer someone else your time and your kindness, and you’ll find that there’s so much comfort in this. Most importantly, you’ll find solace in realizing that your friends are fighting the same battles. Give your friends a hand and let them lift you up.

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Lastly, set goals to help yourself implement these tips and stay motivated. For example, you might promise to commit to 20 minutes of exercise today, and when you achieve this, even if it’s half-willingly at first, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment so powerful that it will drive you to push through.

Be mindful, be determined, and most importantly, focus on being kind to yourself and to those around you. If everything still feels overwhelmingly difficult, don’t hesitate to visit a therapist. Your mental health is beyond precious, so take good care of it this winter.