7 Ways to Prevent the Winter Blues 

Posted by Christina Pistotnik

It’s February and we’ve made it through some of the coldest days on record in 20 years. Cabin fever sets in during any typical winter season, but after this past cold snap, I know that I am especially starting to feel a bit down. With the combination of the shorter daylight hours and the bitter cold, it would get anyone in a bit of a funk.  

Winter blues can be associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), 15% of Canadians can experience mild symptoms of SAD and women are eight times more likely to be affected than men (1). 

What are the symptoms of SAD?  

  • Oversleeping 
  • Anxiety
  • Lethargy /low energy
  • Increase craving for carbohydrates and refined sugar 
  • Weight gain
  • Withdrawal from social contacts
  • Depressed mood 

How To Prevent Mild Symptoms of SAD

1. Acupuncture

  • Acupuncture helps to alleviate anxiety and depression by modulating adaptive neurotransmitters to alleviate autonomic response. This activates distinct brain regions between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems to calm the brain (2).
  • Acupuncture also helps with mood disorders by stimulating the release of feel good hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine (3).

2. Meditation

  • Meditation trains the brain to focus and to return to that focus when negative thinking, emotions, and negative physical sensations occur. This helps the body to return to a more relaxed and positive state of being (4).
  • Another way meditation helps the brain is by protecting the hippocampus, which is typically smaller in people who suffer from depression. One study shows that after meditating for 30 minutes per day for eight weeks, meditators had an increased volume of grey matter in their hippocampus. (4)

3. Exercise

  • Although weather dependent, outdoor exercise is best because you get the added benefit of sunshine exposure and fresh air.
  • Heading to the gym is the next best option, especially if you pick a cardio machine located near a window.
  • Weight gain is associated with seasonal mood disorders and exercise helps to reduce the risk of weight gain.

4. Diet

The types of food that you put into your body also have an effect on mood. For example, avoiding refined sugar and fatty foods that cause weight gain and inflammation can worsen mood disorders.

Feel good meals include:

  • Foods high in Tryptophan (a precursor to serotonin): turkey, chicken, banana, oats, cheese, soy, nuts and sesame seeds.
  • Foods high in Protein (which stimulates production of norepinephrine and dopamine): Greek yogurt, lentils, beans, soy, nuts, cheese, eggs, and meat
  • Probiotic foods (that aid in digestion, immunity, and the stomach’s production of serotonin): yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso, kombucha and pickled foods.

5. Supplements

  • Vitamin D: Decreased sunlight hours in the winter months leads to a decrease in vitamin D levels which can be a factor in seasonal affective disorder (5).
  • Omega 3: These fatty acids travel easily through the brain cell membrane and interact with mood-related molecules inside the brain. Because inflammation is linked to depression, Omega 3’s also help to reduce depression through their anti-inflammatory actions (6).
  • Complex B Vitamins: These essential nutrients play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions. Low levels of B-12 and other B vitamins such as vitamin B-6 and folate may be linked to depression.

*** Talk to your healthcare provider about dosages and if supplementation is right for you.

6. Light Therapy

  • Light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood, easing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Using a light therapy box, visor, or sitting in front of a window for thirty minutes per day stimulates the body’s circadian rhythms, suppressing the release of melatonin.
  • Since light therapy decreases the release of melatonin, it is best to do light therapy treatments in the morning.

7. Massage

  • It should come as no surprise that massage not only helps you to feel well physically, but it also helps you to feel better mentally. 
  • One meta-analysis confirms a significant reduction of depressive symptoms with a massage group when compared to a control group. All of the studies further demonstrate the consistent antidepressant effects of massage (7).

If you feel as if winter has gotten you down, contact us today Our multidisciplinary health professionals would be happy to assist in helping you get through the winter more effortlessly!


  1. MDAO.https://www.mooddisorders.ca/faq/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad
  2. Li QQ, Shi GX, and Wang LP. Acupuncture Effect and Central Autonomic Regulation. Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2013). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3677642/ 
  3. Wen G, He X, Lu Y, Xia Y,  Effect of Acupuncture on Neurotransmitters/Modulators.  Acupuncture Therapy for Neurological Diseases. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-642-10857-0_5
  4. Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Medical School. (2018). How Meditation Helps with Depression. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/how-meditation-helps-with-depression
  5.  Kerr DC, et al. Associations between vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms in healthy young adult womenPsychiatry Res. (2015)
  6. Mischoulon D. Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Medical School (2018).  Omega-3 fatty acids for mood disorders. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/omega-3-fatty-acids-for-mood-disorders-2018080314414
  7. Hou WH, Chiang PT, Hsu TY, Chiu SY, Yen YC. Treatment effects of massage therapy in depressed people: a meta-analysis. J Clin Psych 2010; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20361919
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