Spring isn't even on the horizon, and winter may seem to drag drearily on forever in much of the country. Can't get away to a sunnier spot? Here are some free or cheap ways to boost moods when caught in the cold-weather doldrums.
WALK IT OFF
Even just five minutes of moderate exercise such as a brisk walk can have mood-boosting benefits. The American Psychological Association says studies show the mood-boosting effects of exercise. One from Duke University found that exercise was as powerful as antidepressant medication for people with major depressive disorder.
Laughter does all kinds of good things for the body, such as increase oxygen to the brain, release the natural opiate dopamine, relieve stress, and help reduce pain. Research at Fairleigh Dickinson University suggests laughter -- even forced laughter for one minute -- has a significant positive effect on mood. Smiling seems to help a little less.
SOAK UP SOME SUN
The sun is a natural source of vitamin D, which plays a part in mood. A test in the United Arab Emirates found participants with low levels of vitamin D and symptoms of depression and sent half of them out into the sunshine for seven weeks -- resulting in less depression compared with those who stayed indoors.
WEAR GREEN OR BLUE
Color can be a powerful way to affect emotion. Marketers know this, which is why Cadbury trademarked its purple chocolate wrappers, and why black is used in car commercials to signify luxury. But for a simple pick-me-up, wear blue or green. Creighton University research shows blue makes people feel centered, calm, and hopeful, while green helps ease anxiety. Wearing them can invoke those feelings throughout the day.
GET SOME OMEGA-3
Munching on nuts or dining on fish is a good way to get healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which University of Pittsburgh researchers have linked to improvements in mood. Their study found that people with lower omega-3s in their blood had more signs of depression and a more negative outlook, while those with higher levels were more cheerful and agreeable.
TUNE IN TO MUSIC
Music therapy helps beat depression and anxiety symptoms, according to a study in the British Journal of Psychiatry. Listen to music, dance, or even belt out a few songs -- all can help improve a bad mood.
TAKE A HOT SHOWER
Physical warmth may have something to do with mood. Studies, including at Yale University, find evidence that lonely people subconsciously took more hot showers and warm baths to feel better. The researchers expect that to have "a strong restorative or compensatory effect." Try a warm drink for a similar result.
Miriam Tatzel of Empire State College told an American Psychological Association convention that it pays to be frugal. Her research shows that fulfilling activities and social relationships improve mood and quality of life more than retail therapy. "Less materialism equals more happiness," she said.
DIFFUSE A PLEASANT ODOR
Odors such as oranges and lavender can have a direct and positive impact on mood, according to research out of Austria. Lavender room spray, or simmering orange peels in a small pot on the stove, can do the trick.
HUG A LOVED ONE
Oxytocin, a hormone made in the brain and released into the bloodstream, is responsible for making us feel good, reducing stress, and improving mood, among other things. One way to release oxytocin is through warm physical contact. Hugging, holding hands, and showing affection are all easy ways to get a good mood boost. Even remembering or recounting a happy memory with someone can get that oxytocin pumping, MIT neuroscientists report.