The colder, darker months of the year can be a trying time since access to the outdoors and sunlight can become limited. But that doesn’t mean winter has to be dreary. Read on to check out our guide to help you fend off the winter blues and stay active.

1. Feel good with fitness. Exercise is one of the best ways to feel better and get an endorphin lift. It is both physically and mentally invigorating. Physical activity can boost your energy, help prevent serious health conditions and improve mental performance. Choose an exercise you enjoy, and get moving!

Exercising outdoors in the winter can pose a challenge, but there are still plenty of ways to keep your fitness routine exciting. Here are a couple ideas to explore:

  • Join a fitness meetup group
  • Try a new indoor fitness class or activity that sounds exhilarating to you, such as rock climbing, boxing, cycling, dance, yoga, or Pilates

2. Get some sunlight, even if it’s artificial. Nightfall comes earlier in the winter, which means you’ll get less sunlight, especially if you work indoors. One way to combat SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), if it’s too cold to go outside, is to purchase an artificial light with special fluorescent tubes that mimic the sun’s beneficial rays. Studies have shown exposure for just 30 minutes, first thing in the morning, can keep your body on its springtime cycle and help relieve depressive symptoms. Also, remember that going to a tanning salon does not count and the results can be exceedingly detrimental to your health.

3. Spend quality time with loved ones. Everybody gets stressed out, so taking time for social interaction can be a great way to de-stress and have fun. Make plans with a friend or family member to  engage in a healthy activity together.

4. Work on a craft, project or hobby you enjoy. Maybe you knit or like to refinish furniture. Maybe you paint or are a budding photographer. Whatever you’re into, make some time to let your creativity out to play. A study has shown that when you create time to focus on something that interests you regularly, you can restore your energy more than just relaxing because hobbies can provide recovery time from stress.

5. Have fun with seasonal activities. rsz_istock_000023582367xxxlargeEven if you exercise, catch up on sleep, and eat well, sometimes the aftermath of the holidays alone can leave us feeling like we need to hit the refresh button. See if you can find a few seasonal activities to celebrate winter apart from the holidays. If the temperature is safe and you feel like bundling up, work up a sweat in the great outdoors by:

  • Taking a walk with a friend (or your dog)
  • Shoveling snow (or other yard work)
  • Participating in a charity 5k
  • Trying a new winter activity such as snowshoeing, sledding, skiing, snowboarding, snow flag football or soccer, ice hockey, or ice-skating

6. Eat mindfully. During the winter, people tend to gravitate towards comfort food. But now that the feasts have ended, give your digestive system a break by choosing to eat healthier options. Here are some ideas to get started: try broth-based soups, smoothies and other easily digestible foods. Consider adding in dark leafy greens (like kale or spinach) to your smoothies or raw or steamed veggies as a side with your meals.

One way to prevent overeating is to put your fork down between bites so you eat slowly and savor everything you taste. Listen to your body; enjoy the moment; be present and breathe. Remember that it takes several minutes for your body to know it is full, so stop eating before you feel stuffed.

7. Take time for yourself. Everybody has five minutes to take for themselves. Some days it might take more effort than others to schedule “me time,” but today, make the effort. Taking time to connect with yourself, de-stress and do something you enjoy is an important part of functioning at your best. Any time you spend pampering yourself can also benefit those you care about, too, because you will be happier and healthier.

Here are a few ideas to try solo:

  • Escape with a book.
  • Get a massage.
  • Take a walk in the evening to stargaze (be sure to bundle up, first!).
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Meditate.
  • Prepare your favorite healthy meal.
  • Take time for your hobby.

When Feeling SAD Becomes Serious

Though some people may experience passing seasonal blues, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of serious depression, for yourself and so you can be an ally for others. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a mood disorder characterized by depression that occurs at the same time every year, can be more severe for some and may require developing a treatment plan with a doctor.

Symptoms of depression can include:

  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Persistent sad, anxious or empty mood
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Loss of energy
  • Sleeping too much or too little; waking at odd hours, such as the middle of the night or early morning
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss, or increased appetite and weight gain
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in enjoyable activities

If you (or someone you know) are experiencing any of these feelings for a prolonged period of time, seek help by speaking to a mental health professional or primary care doctor.