If winter?s got you down, blame it on the season?s shorter days. Fewer hours of daylight can leave you feeling blue and fatigued. For some, it can even lead to depression in the form of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
About 1-2 percent of U.S. adults meet the criteria for seasonal depression, said Kelly Rohan, a professor of psychological science at the University of Vermont and an expert in SAD. Those dealing with SAD should seek professional help.
But if you have a simple case of the winter blues, you can shake it by taking these steps. These strategies won?t cost you much ? or anything at all ? but the payoff will be big.
TAKE AN EARLY MORNING WALK
Exercise helps release mood-boosting endorphins that can help combat winter blues. ?One thing that is helpful, based on research, is to go on a 30-minute walk first thing in the morning after sunrise,? said Rohan. You?ll get two benefits from doing this: exercise and exposure to bright light, which is a therapy used to treat SAD.
Instead of heading to the gym, put on more clothing and head outdoors. The benefit will far outweigh the cost of bundling up and braving the cold, Rohan said. ?We should take advantage of the light that is available to us,? she said.
It?s easy to go into hibernation mode during the winter, Rohan said. You want to avoid the cold, so you head home after work every night, curl up on the couch and watch TV. But it?s easier to fall into the midwinter blues if you isolate yourself.
For a natural anti-depressant, be social, Rohan said. Meet friends for coffee, go to happy hour and don?t skip your book club meetings.
?See other people even though it takes more effort,? she said. You can still save money and have fun by meeting friends at free events in your community, going to movie matinees rather than pricier evening shows or taking advantage of discounts on activities from deal sites.
Volunteering is a budget-conscious way to chase away winter gloom, said Elizabeth Avery, founder of travel website SoloTrekker4U. In fact, it?s a free way to be social and contribute to your community.
For example, you could help provide meals through one of the Salvation Army?s soup kitchens, food pantries or mobile meal programs. You could volunteer to teach English as a second language to adults. Or you could volunteer to walk dogs at your local animal shelter. ?In cold, wet weather, volunteers may be scarce while the need continues,? Avery said.
JOIN A BOOTCAMP
If you can?t bear the thought of an early morning walk outside or need motivation to stay active, consider a group fitness class ? which has the added benefit of a social element.
?I joined a boot camp at my local gym that costs $50 a month that lasts an hour long,? said Rob Andersen, creator of the blog MustardSeedMoney. He goes five times a week, so he?s paying about $2.50 per session. ?The best part is I have met a ton of like-minded people and have definitely derived more entertainment than the $2.50 I pay per session,? he said.
GO FOR A HIKE
Even occasional exercise ? especially if done outdoors ? can boost your mood. Rohan suggested taking a hike through the woods or along a lake.
You likely can find hiking trails at state or local parks that offer free or cheap admission, said DealNews editor Benjamin Glaser. If you don?t have enough winter apparel to stay warm, you?ll find cold-weather clothing and gear marked down more than 50 percent in retailers? clearance sections, Glaser said.
HOST A POTLUCK
Be social and beat the winter blues without spending much money by hosting a potluck game night party. Pull out board games you have, or check thrift stores for inexpensive used games, Glaser said.
?Ask your guests to contribute a drink, dish or even some paper plates and cups,? he said. ?As long as you?re the one who has to clean up, they?ll be happy to pitch in.?
For food that you prepare, avoid pricey pre-made items.
?Using raw ingredients and drawing on items already in your pantry, you can make things like dips and hot dishes like chili for as little as $1.50 per person per dish,? Glaser said. ?So for a get-together of 20 people, you could get by on $30 for food, and a few bucks at the thrift store for games.?
START A NEW HOBBY
It?s good to stay active to avoid feeling blue in the winter. But it might be hard if your interests are geared toward warm weather, Rohan said. So she recommended finding a new winter hobby.
For example, you might want to improve your cooking skills. Search online or on YouTube for cooking tutorials that can help you become a whiz in the kitchen ? or at least create a meal that?s edible. If you have kids, you can get them involved and turn it into a fun family activity.