Health & Wellness

Beat the winter blues by talking? 6 science-backed tips to stay happy all season

Winter may have gotten off to a warm start, but now, at its halfway mark, the days are feeling colder and shorter, which leaves many of us feeling draggy and dull.

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It's time to stop saying you hate winter.

Surveys have shown that about 4 to 6 percent of all Americans experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) when the days shorten and grow darker. It's worse in Northern states where sunlight is even more scarce.

But you can beat the winter blues with a few simple lifestyle changes. From talking more to getting cozy — it's true! — here are 6 science-backed tips to get you through.

1. Talk your blues away.

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A recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests that "talk therapy" combats seasonal depression even more effectively than treatment using light.

The big advantage to the talk therapy is that it gives you tools that can help you deal with winter lows year after year, says Kelly Rohan, lead author of the study and a professor and director of clinical training in the department of psychological science at the University of Vermont. The trick is to notice changes in your thought patterns and behaviors.

You don't even have to commit to therapy sessions, says Dr. Mahendra Bhati, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. "In bookstores, in the personal psychology section there are handbooks that will help you learn the techniques that you can apply to yourself,” he says.

For the study, volunteers were told to write every negative thought down in a journal. Then they were told to reread the journal and to consider how valid those thoughts really were.

2. Stick to a schedule.

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While there’s a temptation to cut back and hibernate because of the shorter days, Rohan suggests people figure out ways to keep doing what they always do. If you’ve been exercising out of doors after work, then keep doing it even if you now need to wear multiple layers of clothing and carry a light.

3. Get physical.

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Make sure you devote some time to vigorous physical activity. Studies have shown that exercising vigorously three to four times a week is an effective way to reverse mild depression, says Emanuel Maidenberg, a clinical professor and director of the Cognitive Behavioral Clinic at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles.

4. Be around other people.

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Even if you feel out of sorts, force yourself to socialize. If you wait till you feel like getting out and about, you may never do it, Maidenberg says. Once you’re socializing you may find that you’ve suddenly gotten in the mood to be with other people.

5. Do things you enjoy.

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Try to find a way to do the things you love even if they seem seasonal. If you’re a devoted gardener during the summer months, then maybe some indoor planting will work, Rohan says.

6. Cultivate coziness.

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It's time to stop saying you hate winter. Continually thinking about how much you don't like winter only makes it more likely you’ll feel sad as the season progresses, Rohan says.

Instead, try taking a cue from folks in Norway who celebrate what they call "koselig," a state of being warm, kind and cozy.

Light some scrumptious-smelling candles. Put on pleasant music. Now, invite a few friends over for hot cocoa.

With a little effort, you can add a bit of koselig to your home, your social get-togethers — even your mood —this winter.

Think these ideas are helpful? Share them with your friends on Pinterest!

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TODAY contributor Gina Vivinetto added to this report.

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