I'm a Nutritionist. Here's How I Boost My Happiness When It's Cold Outside

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For those of us who live in cold or northern climates, dark and chilly winters can bring on the doldrums. We don't want to wear anything other than sweatpants, we gorge on comfort foods in front of the TV, or simply feel an overall sadness from the snowy weather, the lack of sunshine, and being cooped up indoors.

Fortunately, there are some quick, simple, and inexpensive things you can do to boost your spirits when it's cold outside. Here are some of my favorite things to do when I need an emotional lift. (Of course, if you suspect you have seasonal affective disorder or another kind of depression, please consult your health practitioner.)

1. Get fresh air and light.

When it's cold outside, the last thing you might want to do is step out of your warm cocoon of fuzzy slippers and blankets to venture into the great outdoors. But it's important to do it every day.

If you live in a place that's cold but sunny, grabbing five minutes of sunlight will help boost your levels of vitamin D, which may improve your mood, and increase the production of serotonin—one of our brain's feel-good neurotransmitters.

If dark and gloomy is all you see out the window, going outside and taking five minutes of deep breaths will fill your body with fresh air. Deep breathing reduces stress and calms the nervous system, lowers blood pressure, improves well-being in those with asthma, and allows oxygen to circulate throughout the body (including to our brain!).

So wrap yourself in your warmest coat, hat, and gloves and take five minutes to breathe deeply or turn your face up to the sun (or both, if you can).

2. Eat mood-boosting foods.

Fill your plate with foods that will support the brain, help you manufacture beneficial neurotransmitters, and aid the nervous system. Some of my favorite dietary mood-boosters are:

  • Salmon, flaxseed, hemp seed, walnuts: These foods are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, important fats that help to reduce inflammation throughout the body, improve mood, and reduce anxiety.
  • Eggs: Eggs contains choline, a nutrient used to make acetylcholine—a neurotransmitter that is essential to proper nervous system function and cognition. They are also an amazing source of amino acids, the building blocks of protein that are used to formulate many of our mood-boosting neurotransmitters.
  • Blueberries: Berries such as blueberries are high in antioxidants and anthocyanins, which help to reduce free-radical damage and amp up brain function.
  • Fermented foods: Dairy-free yogurt, miso, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and more are rich in probiotics. There is a direct connection between the digestive tract and the brain called the gut-brain axis. Research shows that probiotics can influence mood and reduce anxiety and depression. Start by adding a tablespoon of fermented foods to your plate per day as a delicious and mood-boosting condiment.
  • Sweet potatoes, spinach, turkey, sunflower seeds: This group of foods is particularly high in vitamin B6, a vitamin that is important for the brain and nervous system because it helps to produce our brain's main neurotransmitters—serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. They are also high in tryptophan, an amino acid that helps us make serotonin.
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3. Wear color.

When the weather is cold and dark we tend to mimic those shadows by wearing black, brown, navy, and dark gray.

Give yourself a cognitive and fashion lift by wearing bright colors and patterns that make you happy. Wearing color is a huge part of my personal mentality, and let me tell you—I always attract smiles and positive energy when I'm swathed bright pink or rolling around with my bicycle decorated in flowers.

One study of workplaces in four different countries discovered that using good color design and an adequate amount of light contributed to a more positive mood for employees. Some researchers also suggest that chromotherapy—or color therapy—can affect the serotonin levels in the brain.

4. Laugh.

Who feels terrible after a good laugh? I can't imagine anyone does.

In this study of depressed women, laughter yoga was determined to be as effective as exercise in decreasing depression. Additional studies have shown that laughter and humor can reduce anxiety and sleep disorders, improve general feelings of health, relax muscles, help cancer patients think more positively, and can boost the immune system by increasing natural killer cell activity.

Our bodies can't actually tell if laughter is genuine or fake—so even if you laugh when you genuinely don't feel like it, you can still reap the benefits.

Laughter is free, simple, and has no side effects. What do you have to lose?

5. Exercise.

There is a wide range of data that concludes that regular exercise has a positive impact on the brain. It reduces tension and anxiety, can improve mood, increases the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, and boosts endorphins, which makes us feel great.

Not to mention exercise helps us sleep better, maintain a healthy weight, and improve our cardiovascular health, so there are lots of reasons for us to do it!

Exercising can be tougher when it's cold outside, especially if you're not into winter activities like skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing (but if you are—go wild!). But it's still possible to have a great home workout with minimal equipment or even no equipment at all. Grab a free workout video on YouTube, get on your yoga mat or the floor, run on the spot, or have a dance party. There are lots of great options!

By trying some of these mood-boosting tips when it's cold outside, you just may find yourself as happy as if you were on a warm, sunny beach!

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