With the darkest days of the year upon us, it is important to be aware that the shorter days can have detrimental effects on mood and energy. Listed below are eight tips one can employ to keep spirits high, no matter the weather or day:

1. Obtain 10 – 30 minutes of bright daylight on as many days as possible, preferably in the earlier hours of the day.

2. Limit evening electricity. Bright light entering the eyes at night will confuse the circadian rhythm and disrupt sleep. Electronics such as televisions, computers, cell phones, and tablets are a few of the worst late-night culprits.

3. Aim for a full night’s sleep. Skimping on sleep can have negative effects on anyone’s mood, regardless of the time of year. Most people should strive for at least seven hours per night, eight or nine may be even better.

4. Exercise at least 20 minutes on most days of the week. Moderate aerobic activities such as walking are a great idea.

5. Say no to sugar. Sugary foods and drinks will send the body’s glucose levels on a roller-coaster ride, resulting in crankiness and lethargy. Seek out whole foods with a balance of fat, protein, and complex carbohydrates.

6. Keep up with friends. Social connection is one of the most powerful, yet simple ways to stay upbeat and optimistic. A simple cup of coffee or walk with a friend can set the right mood for an entire day.

7. Smile at strangers and laugh often. Remember the old saying, “When you smile, the whole world smiles back”? It’s true! Smiling, even when feeling low, can boost mood and release feel-good endorphins in your brain. Laughter has even more powerful effects. It really may be your best medicine.

8. Breathe deeply. Stress can wind up the mind quickly, leaving one frustrated and angry. Spend a few minutes each day in a quiet space simply listening to your breath. You’ll emerge feeling calm and tranquil.

No matter the season, each person holds the power of choice. Whether or not you consciously realize it, you choose your attitude and outlook every day. You may choose to wake each day with a positive, flexible, and adventurous mind; or a negative, stubborn, and fearful mind. It is worth the effort to retrain your brain to think positively. Using the strategies above can assist the process. Take it one day at a time and do your best to flow with the changing seasons.

By Jared Rogers
Exercise Physiologist and Personal Trainer
Duke Center For Living at Fearrington