Overcoming the Winter Blues - 5 tips to switch out sadness for happiness


Over the last few weeks, handfuls of young people I've talked to have expressed feeling down. It's probably more the weather (winter!) than anything, but life in general does have its ups and downs. I thought I'd share some of the most powerful habits I've adopted over the years to exchange the blues for ... oranges.

One of the most famous motivational coaches, Tony Robbins, has said that from his perspective the secret to happiness - the secret to life is - (bum ba ba bummmmmmmmm) gratitude. When we’re thankful, our heart and our minds shift. These activities and exercises help you to be more aware of your world and, thus, grateful for it.

Habit #1 Be with people

Last year I took some time away from the office and worked from home. I found it to be a very self-revealing process. My motivation and overall energy took a deep dive the longer I stayed away from humanity. It was hard to get up from bed or accomplish a handful of tasks throughout the day. I didn’t realize what was causing my low energy levels until we had to get our cable fixed. You heard me right. Our cable.

The cable guy came into the house around noon. While he was here, I made myself food, I made a To-Do list for myself, and started cleaning the house. I didn’t even realize how much of a 180 my mindset took, until he left 18 minutes later.

Once he was gone, I sat at my counter with my To Do list and cup of tea and thought… I don’t know if I really want to do this now.

Wow. The light went off in my head. I must need people! If the cable guy can get me up in the morning, then what would a little camaraderie from real friendships do for my life?

ACTION: Over the past year I’ve learned that scheduling a phone call or coffee meet-up almost for some point every day, adds life to my life. It gets me excited to give and share, and it provides me an opportunity to get encouragement and support. It’s taken me awhile to implement, but this one intentional act of scheduling time with people *daily* has made a huge difference.

Habit #2  Write your ToDo list

Sadness can be a bummer, but it gets even more compiled when you feel like you have so much to do (or so much that you want to do).

It's actually the feeling of being “out of control” of your own life that is a VERY common underpinning reason for depression. In moments of despair the best thing you can do is to take steps to show yourself you are in control of your own situation. Easiest thing to do: Make a ToDo list. 

ACTION: My favorite is using a yellow legal pad, because you can write down everything on your mind (front and back). I’ve had days - in college - when I’d number it out to #53 or #153! I’d include everything from homework, phone calls to make, personal errands to run, and self-care (nails!). 

Once you see list, it’s so self-assuring, because you realize “I’m not crazy. I actually do have a lot to do.” It’s validating for those stuck feelings inside.

Immediately when you see the list, you can start circling and planning when you’re going to begin today. Amazing.

Exercise (the xbox or gym!)

Ohhhh exercise. Our frenemy. Here’s the thing - don’t overthink it. 

Last winter I made a rule that I would go for a walk every day outside (even if it was zero degrees). Pretty soon I felt like such a badass, because I just pictured my neighbors looking out their window like - who is that crazy person?! I would wear my pajamas with sweatpants and yellow snow boots and tons of scarves. And I would do it for under 10 minutes - maybe 5 minutes.

This year, Ryan and I have enjoyed the Xbox Dance routines. Under 15 minutes of rad dancing, makes you so happy that you hardly realize how bad you are at it. One of these days, I’m going to get myself to an elliptical at a gym and pick up some free weights. But until that day, dance on my friends, dance on.

ACTION: Choose an easy exercise routine you can do regularly. Don't try to be Olympic. Walk the dog an extra block. Find a friend to go to the gym with. Jump rope (or jacks) and do 10 push ups before bed. Simple.

Go through memories - photo books, journals

Memories are filled with good feelings. They’re filled with thankfulness and good lessons. And they’re just enough to jog your mind out of it’s state of ugly. I definitely recommend reading through old journals. You’ll either be A. impressed with how wise you were or B. impressed with how smart you’ve gotten since that time. Either way, you’ll feel good about yourself, and feel like you are progressing in life, and again feel more in control of your situation. 

Often in these memory-hunts, I have a big ‘aha’ moment that shakes my mind awake. I start putting the pieces together of "why" something happened or start seeing how thankful I am that they did happen.  In general helps me to have self-awareness of my own situation - and often gives me the insight I need to take the next steps.

ACTION: Pull out the old iPhotos account. Or the journal. Even from when you were a teenager! I don't advise going through old Facebook photos. It's like trying to pick up daisies by walking through a mine field. Go analog for this one. :) ... speaking of Facebook ... 

Quit social media for a week (or two)

This actually should probably be your number one advice. I come recommending it after having taken a year off of Facebook, and taking an annual season off of Instagram. 

Because of social media, we unintentionally train our mind to base our decisions and communication on what others will think. What will I wear? Say? Do? We don’t even realize we’re doing it - until you leave it. 

When I stepped off Facebook, and the results were so powerful I was so reluctant to go back. I’ve taken Instagram breaks (just deleting the app from my phone, not the account), and when I do it, I am more present in my daily life and more aware of the people that are in it (rather than the ‘perfect life’ ones who actually are not). When I get back from the break, I can actually feel the happiness wane within a week. Not even joking.

With social media gone, your circle of friends naturally shrinks, but in doing so, your life and friendships become richer. If you haven’t found any solution for your blues, you have to try this. Believe me. You won't realize its grip until it's gone.

ACTION: Choose your most watched social media. Alert your friends/followers that you're going to be off so you don't get panic attacks. And then delete the app off your phone. Pay attention to the very odd, yet revealing, side effects. Once you know them, you can *of course* jump back on. But at least you'll know your triggers and your tendencies.

bonus tip! check your food

Did you know allergies don’t just cause skin rashes? Some foods actually cause emotional reactions.

Pay attention to when you download your next bowl of ice cream or brownies or pizza. Often gluten can make you feel low and dreary. And sugar can have a high with a sad and bitter low. Some other foods are caffeine (I can get a little paranoid after too much) and dairy can affect anxiety, mood swings and irritability.

You don’t have to quit them, just pay attention when you eat each one and see if anything *mentally* shifts over the next 1-3 hours. It’s an interesting experiment in the least, and over time you may find it's a major cause for the blues.

Once I found out I had celiacs and stopped eating gluten - I was able to snap out of the sleeping in, feeling unmotivated, and just generally feeling irritated. It felt like a miracle.

And in truth, happiness is kind of like a miracle. But one that is possible to create, over time, with positive habits and a life full of gratitude. :)