How Can I Improve My Winter Mood? Diet & Exercise

Medically Reviewed on 4/27/2022
How Can I Improve My Winter Mood
Winter can be taxing for many people, leading to symptoms similar to depression. You can improve your winter mood through light therapy, diet, and exercise

Winter can be taxing for many people, causing symptoms similar to depression. As the days grow shorter and darker, some people experience the winter blues. Symptoms may include:

  • Craving comfort food
  • Lack of interest in hobbies
  • Less energy to exercise
  • Sleepiness
  • Sadness

While you may not be able to change the weather, you can improve your winter mood and counter feelings of stress or loneliness.

Can light therapy help improve your winter mood?

Light therapy can play a significant role in improving your winter mood. 

Being outdoors in sunlight can help reset your sleep-wake cycle. You can also situate yourself near a window to get exposed to natural light or use lamps that are designed to simulate natural light and treat the winter blues.

Other types of light available include

  • Wake-up lights: Designed for people who have difficulty waking up in the morning. They slowly increase in brightness to mimic the sun.
  • Bright lightbox: To create artificial photoperiod of 12 to 14 hours usually experienced during spring or summer.

Light therapy may have results within 1-2 weeks, and some people will notice a significant boost in their mood.

What nutrients are essential for beating winter blues?

Winter is often associated with certain nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin D deficiency. Addressing these deficiencies and including certain foods in your diet may help beat the winter blues.

Vitamin D

There are conflicting reports about the link between low vitamin D levels and low mood. However, studies that have supported using vitamin D supplements to treat depression noticed that people suffering from winter blues experienced a significant elevation in their mood. Vitamin D can be incorporated into the diet through foods such as:

  • Fatty fish
  • Fish oils
  • Fortified milk
  • Egg yolks
  • Mushrooms


Studies have supported the link between omega-3 fatty acid deficiency and low winter mood.  

Omega-3s help maintain a healthy level of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. A low level of serotonin is linked with depression, aggression, and suicidal tendencies. Some studies have shown that Icelandic people who consume more cold-water fish are less prone to winter blues. Various studies on the effects of fish oil supplementation to manage depression have shown encouraging results.

Since the body does not produce omega-3 fatty acids on its own, these fatty acids need to be consumed through your diet.The more potent forms of omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are mainly found in fatty fish, such as mackerel, herring, salmon, sardines, and anchovies. The less potent form of omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is mainly found in flaxseeds, hemp, canola oil, and walnut oil. 

Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbs promote the production of serotonin, which can alleviate symptoms of winter blues. Examples of complex carbs include:

  • Popcorn
  • Shredded wheat
  • Lentils
  • Brown rice
  • Potatoes

Simple carbohydrates, such as white rice and white bread, instantly elevate blood sugar levels and trigger an insulin spike. This can lead to a sudden drop in blood sugar level (sugar crash), which can cause fatigue, headaches, and irritability.


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4 foods that can help combat winter blues

  1. Berries: Berries can slow the unwanted response of cortisol in the body, which is a hormone that is associated with stress and mood fluctuations. Managing cortisol levels can help manage moods. Examples of berries that can help improve your winter mood include blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries.
  2. Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa is known to increase the production of phenylalanine. Phenylalanine is responsible for dopamine production, which reduces symptoms of seasonal depression and can help boost mood.
  3. Green, leafy vegetables: Dark green, leafy vegetables, such as collards, turnip greens, spinach, and mustard greens, can play a significant role in alleviating symptoms of winter blues.
  4. Fermented foods: Apart from nourishing the gut, fermented foods are responsible for serotonin production. Sauerkraut, kimchi, and plain yogurt can help reduce symptoms of depression.

How does regular exercise help improve your winter mood?

Regular exercise helps release mood-boosting chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin. The release of serotonin and dopamine can help ease anxiety and improve your winter mood.

Exercises that can combat the winter blues include:

To get the maximum benefit of exercise, try doing it earlier in the day when the sun is still shining.

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Medically Reviewed on 4/27/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

Princing M. How to Boost Your Mood During the Big Dark. UW Medicine.

Cordeiro B. Winter blues? 6 ways to improve mood and energy. MD Anderson Cancer Center.