7 Frugal Ways to Beat the Winter Blues (SAD)

by heather

7592544Hi Everyone!

Have you been wondering if I fell off the planet? Well, if you consider Northeast Louisiana “off the planet” (which, it almost is), then you’d be correct. I got sick, and then I was away for the holidays visiting family. AND, since we sold our house the day before I left, I’ve been in a whirlwind of busy-ness since I got back. I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday and New Year’s!

I’m back to regular posting this week, and wanted to tackle something to happens to me every year: the winter blues.

Lots of people get the winter blues, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) every year. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, over 500,000 Americans get a full blown case of SAD each year. And, another 10-20% of the population get it in a milder form.

How do you know if you’re experiencing SAD? According to FamilyDoctor.org, here are the symptoms:

  • A change in appetite, especially a craving for sweet or starchy foods
  • Weight gain
  • A drop in energy level
  • Fatigue
  • A tendency to oversleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Increased sensitivity to social rejection
  • Avoidance of social situations and a loss of interest in the activities you used to enjoy

Or, my own definition: you look out the window, and go BLERGH.

I go through it every year. Michigan winters are no picnic, and from now until the end of March is usually a battle for me to stay happy and positive.

But, over the years I have learned some strategies to help get me through the long dark days of winter. And, the best part? Most of them are  frugal. Some are even free. So, since I woke up this morning yearning for spring rains and barefeet, I thought I’d focus today’s post on just that.

Strategy 1: Listen to Rain

I love YouTube. It’s got to be one of the most marvelous sites on the Internet, because you can find anything on there.

Including sounds of summer and warm things, like this video (my favorite!) of the sounds of rain on a river:

Here’s what I do: I play this pretty continuously during the day while I’m working (I’ve got it on right now, in fact). I close my curtains, which are sheer enough to let light in but keep out the view of the winter snow outside), and I just work away while listening to it rain. After awhile, it really does almost feel like it could be mid-April. I can imagine the lush, new green grass soaking up all that rain, and how lovely the tulips are going to look when they come up.

You’d think that imagining Spring would make things worse, right? After all, one peek out of my office window and all I can see is a tundra of white.

But it really does help, mainly because it offers a break, and a reminder that yes, Spring really is coming.

YouTube also has tons of other videos like crickets chirping, the sound of waves, thunderstorms, wind blowing through grass…you wouldn’t believe how much is online. If you take a look at that video I posted, there are plenty of other related videos on the sidebar as well.

Strategy 2: Exercise

Ok, don’t groan. Exercise has been proven, yes proven, to help with Seasonal Affective Disorder. And I’m hear to tell you that it works. I really do feel happy after I’ve gone for a run at the gym. I’ve cut out a lot of extra expenses in my budget the past year, but my gym membership is worth every penny.

If you can’t afford a membership to a gym, and you don’t want to brave the cold to head outside for a walk, check out some of these at-home exercises.

I know it can be hard to get motivated enough to exercise. I have to coach myself out of bed many mornings to go for a run (and, sometimes my lazy half wins!) But I promise you that the return on your efforts is ten-fold. It really is worth it.

Strategy 3:  Get a Sun Light Lamp

Light lamps simulate sunlight, and they can be incredibly effective at tricking your body into thinking you’re seeing real sunlight. They’ve been proven to help brighten people’s mood, and they’re regularly prescribed to people suffering from the winter blues.

As you can imagine, prices run the gamut on sun lamps.  The Sunlight Technology Desk Lamp – Blue and Chrome is $30 on Amazon, while the NatureBright SunTouch Plus Light and Ion Therapy Lamp is $112.

Both got good reviews, but I’m inclined to think that the NatureBright light might work better.

I know this suggestion isn’t quite on the frugal side, but I put it in here simply because there’s so much evidence online that a good sun lamp really can work wonders. The reviews for the NatureBright (on Amazon) were pretty amazing, and that little light has changed a lot of people’s lives.

I’ve long wanted to have one myself, and each year I manage to make it through without one. But I might just make the investment this year after we get moved.

Strategy 4: Drink Kava Tea

Psychology Today says that Kava Kava has long been used to treat stress and lower anxiety.

And, it really does work. Yogi Teas make a wonderful Kava Stress Reduction tea. I bought a box last year and feel it really does work. Now, it tastes like licorice, but adding honey really helps with tea. Reviewers on the Yogi Tea site have also said that brewing this tea in cold water makes it work better, since many of kava’s benefits are destroyed with hot water.

Strategy 5: Take Fish Oil Vitamins

This is another one of my strategies, and I swear by it. Omega-3 fatty acids are like brain food. And when the fish oil is taken from cold-water fish, like salmon, the effect is even better for those suffering from SAD.

Years ago I read a book on depression (can’t remember the name), and it said in there that all you have to do is look at native Eskimo people if you want proof that fish oil really does work. Think about it: these people live in the cold, often dark tundra all year long. And yet, they’re incredibly happy people.


Because cold water fish is the biggest ingredient in their diet. They consume a ton of Omega-3s every day.

Think they suffer from SAD? No way.

Strategy 6: Take Up a Hobby

Now that winter is here know what I’ve started doing again?


I never have time for my art in the spring and summer, because I’m always outside! But diving back into it has really helped cheer me up. Not only is it a great way to pass the time, but it also keeps my creativity flowing, and it keeps my mind off the howling winds outside.

Taking up a new (or old) hobby could be the indoor diversion you need to keep from going stir crazy.

Want some ideas? Check out FindMeAHobby.com. They’ve got a ton.

You could also check out your local community center or Adult Education outreach program. They alway offer cool classes like pottery, drawing and painting, cooking, knitting, salsa dancing, you name it.

Strategy 7: Light a Candle or a Fire

Oh boy I love fires. They’re instant cheer-ups for me.

If you’re feeling down, why not try lighting a fire? The smell, the soothing flames, the warmth…they could all help perk you up. You also might want to try burning Eco Bricks. They’re made from otherwise-wasted sawdust, and they’re supposed to burn 2 1/2 times longer than regular wood. I just saw them over the weekend in my local hardware store, and they looked really cool. I love the thought that they’re made from a waste product too!

I’m hoping our next place will have a fireplace, because I really, really want to try these out.

Last Word…

I’d love to hear back from all of you on this. Do you have strategies for combating the winter blues? If so, I would love to hear them! I’m always looking for ways to keep going until April, so I could really use the help. And, I’m sure, there are plenty of other readers out there that could too.


Diane January 4, 2010 at 4:24 pm

If you go to this link, this will play 24/7 – the problem with the rain video is it stops at the end of the cycled time, and you have to start it over again. Here’s the link:


Then, layer on top of this link, this link: http://www.baby-to-sleep.com

I play both of them together – 24/7…..

If you join http://www.playlist.com (it’s 100% free and takes about 3 minutes to complete the sign-up), then search for music and sounds. Type in ‘Sounds of Nature’ into the search window; it will bring up crickets, thunder, rain, ocean waves, etc., and add them to your personal play-list, and this also will run 24/7 – so I have ALL THREE of them going during those gloomy days and even during the wonderful bright days.

Mrs. Money January 4, 2010 at 6:54 pm

I think I’m one of those peeps. It sucks. I can’t wait for spring. It’s weird- I think I got it when I lived in Michigan but when I moved to Colorado I was fine. I have no idea why!

heidi January 4, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Bird watching. It really helps to have warm clothes and either a park nearby or a decently vegetated yard – but seriously, it’s the best time of the year to learn to ID birds. Diversity is usually low, you get to recognize what’s common and as you learn to ID them faster/better/more frequently, suddenly it’s spring and there’s new stuff to learn. You can feed (or not) critters in your backyard, you can use binoculars (or not) or cameras (or not) or scopes (or not) or contact locals who can help get you started… Heck, helping out with Christmas Bird Counts (alas, the season is over now) is a great way to help others while learning a ton.

Or just watch. And don’t get entirely absorbed. Just enjoy =)


heather January 5, 2010 at 9:27 am

@Mrs. Money- Do you think it could be because Colorado is prettier? I mean, I think winter would be easier to bear if you had beautiful mountains and rushing streams to look at and hike through. I’ve only ever spent winter in Michigan so I wouldn’t know, but I have often wondered if I would mind it less if I lived in a place like Montana.

@Heidi- I love bird watching, and it’s a great idea to go in winter time. They’re so much easier to see when the leaves are gone! I have several feeders outside my office windows (so I can monitor my daily battle with the locals squirrels too), but I really should make an effort to go out into the woods for some bird watching. That’s probably my biggest hurdle: making myself go out into the cold! 🙂 Thanks for the great suggestion!

Hmmm…could be reCaptcha is sending me a message!

My code to enter this comment is: has guts

Ok, point taken… 🙂

Doreen January 5, 2010 at 6:32 pm

I liked all your ideas, I would add to the fish-oil section that Vitamin D-3 might also be of use. I live in a northern lattitude as well, and it can get pretty gloomy in Idaho if there’s not much snow. many folks show low levels of vit.d.
Fresh salmon is just as good, if you can find it.
Thanks for an interesting site.

Diane January 6, 2010 at 4:45 pm

I got my regular e-mail notices re the added comments. I think I told Heather a good year ago, that I thought she might be my niece who lives in Michigan – her name is Heather.

I was born in Battle Creek, MI – moved in and around the state over the years – ultimately before I moved away, I did a complete tour of both the lower and upper peninsula.

What I noticed is just what Heather mentioned; where there are sand dunes; visions of one of the Great Lakes, and a good wooded area of pines, there is ‘more to’ look at during the winter months.

I’ve traveled 48 of the 50 states; Colorado is a beautiful state, and I think that (again) is why I ended up in the western states (in 1980) – I could handle the rain in Seattle because of the mountains; the water – the scenery, and had it been as it often is in the state of Michigan, it can be a ‘dreary’ kind of rain and nothing much to look at if you take a ride outside, or look through your window.

After living where there are mountains and enormous trees with gorgeous lakes; oceans, and rivers, I’ve truly discovered that I ‘beat my blues’ (when they come) by going outside – in any weather, and enjoying the beauty of nature.

One thing I do miss – watching my birds in Michigan; I had 32 bird feeders on my 5 acres, and I do envy those who live in my home-state, because of the glorious selection of birds to feed and watch…………

So, we all have some place in nature where we can find the joy and beauty to overcome some of those days when we’re not feeling as chipper.

Happy New Year, Heather and your readers who always add interesting comments.


Jennie January 15, 2010 at 1:13 am

My suggestion? Walking around a greenhouse, it is warm, colorful, and fragrant-and if you don’t buy anything it’s free. I went to one today with beautiful orchids, bonsai trees and fountains, so nice!

Danielle@Newlyweds Paradise January 26, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Ugh…I live in Michigan. On Saturday, my husband and myself were completely bored, yet we were busy all day. The same thing happened yesterday. So I considered that our winter blahs. I am going to use some of the tips you gave to see if they help us. Thanks 🙂

heather January 27, 2010 at 3:41 pm

@Danielle- Yeah, Michigan winters are the worst! I’m still dreaming of rain and barefeet and tulips. 🙂

If you’re anywhere close to Ann Arbor, going to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens is pure bliss. It’s all indoors, and they keep it around 70-80 degrees in there. It’s like a rainforest (they even have waterfalls)! My husband and I love to go for a winter pick-me-up.

Here’s the link if you’d like to check it out: http://www.lsa.umich.edu/mbg/

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