Monday, January 18, 2010

Green and Frugal -- 7 Frugal Ways to Beat the Winter "Blahs"


Happy Monday! Some of these winter-blah-beating suggestions may also work for Mondays. Here's another great post from our friends at The Greenest Dollar:

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, 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 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.

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