If you feel sluggish, moody and like you're functioning slower in the fall and winter months, you're not alone. Roughly five percent of the population suffers severely and is diagnosed with light-related depression appropriately known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, as a result of short days with reduced sunlight and long hours of darkness. But many more of us experience a general malaise.
"This seasonal effect is a spectrum," explains Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School and author of "Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder." "For every SAD sufferer there are five of us who feel like we're just not performing up to snuff. We can get into work but we're slower to produce, less competent and not up to our usual standard."
To feel well in winter, it's critical to create surroundings that help lift your mood, and doing so doesn't have to break the bank. There are easy and affordable improvements you can make using warm hues, strategic lighting, fun accessories and the sounds of summer.
*Get Creative With Color
Research shows that warm and glowing colors like oranges, yellows and golds have a positive impact on mood. "A golden glow can provide a great sunny feel in winter," explains Sherry Burton Ways, certified design psychology coach of SBW Aligned Expressions. But, she says, be careful of too much bright white. "With the outdoor winter landscape being so gray and white, it's better to avoid glaring whites, grays and blues -- considered cool and 'quiet' colors -- and instead give your eye something warm to enjoy indoors."
Designer Olivia Williams says to consider a fresh touch of multi-pigment paint, such as those offered by Drikolor. "Pigment in paint changes the color and strength of the light it reflects due to selective wavelength absorption, and most traditional paints are single pigment. New multipigment paints on the market are great for shifting light to flow around a room as you move through the space, helping reflect light even in shaded corners." Painting new shades on your walls can create a comfortable respite from the outdoors.
*Use the Right Lighting
Burton Ways points out that even walls with the warmest of hues can't elevate your mood if the room lacks the right lighting. Deficiency of light is a key cause of the winter blues because the decrease of daylight results in our brain secreting more of the sleep- and mood-related hormone melatonin, which makes us feel sluggish. Williams, Burton Ways and Rosenthal all recommend installing LED track lighting, adding spotlights and lamps to create additional ambiance, or simply swapping dim bulbs for brighter bulbs for an instant mood elevation.
"LED lighting has the capacity to create a very pleasant, sunny home environment with the advantages that it looks like incandescent light and provides a warm glow but doesn't give off as much heat," explains Dr. Rosenthal, "unlike fluorescent lighting, which results in a clinical and artificial atmosphere."
Designer Williams says another great way to extend winter days is to install lighting behind window treatments: "Hang sheer blinds or matchstick bamboo shades. Then install an inexpensive LED daylight strip behind it to give the illusion of daylight streaming through, which is really lovely to have when the sun is done for the day." These simple tweaks can brighten up the darkest of moods.
Re-creating upbeat feelings of sunnier seasons is also psychologically important to beating the winter blues. Dr. Rosenthal says the best way to do this is to embrace the Danish concept of hygge, bringing comforting images and feelings of contentment into your space to create a happy environment.
"Multiple inputs of spring and summer act cumulatively to uplift us, so consider bird song and fragrances as well as accessorizing with bright throw cushions and rugs with spring and summer illustrations and themes," he suggests. "And make the most of your mornings. Research shows that we need a boost first thing to elevate our spirits." Creating a well-lit bathroom and breakfast area is key, and consider a sound machine that can wake you up to the sounds of birds flying through a summer breeze.
We often feel that winter dread creep in once we set our clocks back and see the days getting shorter. Be proactive with these small, simple home improvements to turn your frown upside down.