Monday the 16th of January is known by some as Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. The actual scientific basis for there being a most depressing day of the year is shaky but it is certain that winter does not bring out our best moods. The combination of short days, overcast skies, and cold weather keeps us hunkered down indoors and that can make us feel sad, tired and anxious.
What can you do to break out of the winter blues? As I discuss in Smart Thinking, to help you solve any new problem, there are a few important things you need to do. In this case, you need to start by learning about why you get the winter blues. That is, you need to pick up some High Quality Knowledge. Then, you need to develop some Smart Habits to do things differently.
There are a few chemicals in your brain that can improve your mood. Two important ones are dopamine (which influences the way your brain processes rewards) and the hormone oxytocin (which affects your feeling of closeness to others). To kick-start the release of dopamine, make sure you exercise regularly during the winter. At a minimum, you should take a few long walks. To improve the release of oxytocin, snuggle up to your partner. The physical contact will help a lot. If that isn’t an option for you, try a massage. And don't forget to spend time with friends.
Getting involved in your community can also help. Winter is a tough time for people who have been hit hard by the difficult economy. If you spend a few hours a week working at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter, you will be amazed at how much you get back in good feeling.
Finally, if these suggestions aren’t working for you, go out and get a sunlamp. Sunlight influences your brain chemistry, and when you don’t get enough, your brain suffers. There are a variety of inexpensive full-spectrum lamps you can get to help replace the sunlight you’re not getting during the short winter days. A little time in front of the lamp can also help to brighten your mood.
And hang on in there. Spring is on the way.
Smart Thinking: How to Think Big, Innovate and Outperform Your Rivals by premier cognitive scientist Art Markman Ph.D. is published on the 26th of January.
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