5 ways to beat the winter blues and stay happy beyond ‘Blue Monday’

What do you do to get happy?.
What do you do to get happy?. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michael Dwyer

The third Monday of January is not the most depressing day of the year, according to mental health professionals — despite what others might have you believe.

It was dubbed “Blue Monday” in 2015 by a travel company that wanted to encourage people to book winter escapes.

But it could be argued that people do have reason to feel a little blue this time of year. For one, the high of the holidays has worn off and been replaced by the harsh reality of your Christmas spending (and eating). Being in the depths of winter with seemingly no end in sight also doesn’t help.

Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to get through the slump.

1. Vitamin D and light therapy

Up to 10 per cent of North Americans are said to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

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Experts have suggested the feeling of sadness associated with the disorder is partially due to a lack of Vitamin D, which is produced by natural light.

“Vitamin D is what is called the sunshine hormone [or the] sunshine vitamin,” Dr. Venkat Gopalakrishnan, department head of pharmacology at the University of Saskatchewan, told Global News in December.

People can boost their vitamin D levels by drinking milk, eating fatty fish or taking a supplement, he said.

WATCH: Maintaining vitamin D levels key to battling seasonal depression

One of the other most common treatments for SAD is light therapy, which involves the use of special lamps for about an hour a day to mimic the type of light a person receives on a sunny day.

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Tabletop units can range from about $70 to around $200.

READ MORE: Light therapy benefits for non-seasonal depression as well: study

2. Stay active

If you’re one of those “January joiners” who resolved to get fit this year and have already fallen off the bandwagon, don’t worry.

You still can (and should) get back to a workout routine. Any health professional will tell you that physical activity is not only great for your body, but also your mind.

Exercise releases endorphins that can be a great stress-buster.

And there are plenty of ways to work on your fitness this winter while enjoying the great outdoors.

WATCH: January is the time of year that many people resolve to get fit but many people are also facing new financial realities. Here are some tips that won’t break the bank.

Click to play video: 'Why you can’t afford not to exercise during tough economic times'
Why you can’t afford not to exercise during tough economic times

3. Spend money on experiences, not things

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Psychology professor Tom Gilovich of Cornell University says you’ll be happier — and your happiness will last longer — if you spend your money on experiences (like travel and concerts), rather than things (like clothes and gadgets).

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He’s spent more than 12 years studying the subject.

There’s a simple thought experiment Gilovich has used to demonstrate this. He asks his test subjects to think of the three best things and experiences they’ve ever purchased. Then he asks them to tell him about themselves.

“People take their most significant experiences and embed them in their narratives much more than their material goods,” he said.

Gilovich explained that we feel more connected with our loved ones when we share an experience with them.

WATCH: It turns out owning that pair of Manolos is not going to help you be happier after all. A study shows people who spend money on experiences instead of things are much happier.

4. Give unto others

In addition to spending on experiences, research shows spending on others makes us feel good.

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“We tested this idea in poor countries where many of our participants reported having trouble meeting their basic needs,” Elizabeth Dunn, a UBC psychology professor, said in 2013.

“And even in these relatively impoverished areas of the world we find people are happier when they spend money on others rather than themselves.”

READ MORE: Happiness from giving to others may be a universal trait, say authors from UBC and Harvard

There seems to be a biological explanation for it.

“There is what’s called dopamine, which is a hormone and a neurotransmitter, that is released into your brain if you do help,” Alisha Sabourin, a Edmonton-based therapist, told Global News in 2014.

Dopamine sends a surge of excitement to the brain, which reinforces the act of giving.

The benefits can include decreased anxiety and blood pressure, along with an increased feeling of self-worth.

Volunteering has been shown to be particularly good for people with depression, as it gets them out of the house and socializing.

WATCH: Su-Ling Goh explains why it feels so good to give

5. ‘Happy wife makes for a happy life’

There may be some scientific proof to that cheesy line you always hear at weddings.

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A 70-year study out of Harvard suggested that the key to a long, healthy life is a happy marriage. Owning a puppy and hanging on to a group of good friends can help as well.

A happy relationship is what kept the majority of the men in the study thriving. Only four of the 31 men who stayed single were still alive when the study wrapped up..

Meanwhile, more than a third of those with companions were still alive even into their 90s.

“The finding on happiness is that happiness is the wrong word. The right words for happiness are emotional intelligence, relationships, joy, connections and resilience,” George Vaillant, a Harvard psychiatrist who directed the study for 32 years, told the Daily Mail in 2012.

READ MORE: How to improve your relationship

If subjects didn’t have meaningful relationships, a pet dog often filled the void, the study noted.

The animals are believed to help keep your immune system strong, while daily walks with pets get owners into the habit of regular exercise — which brings us back to tip number two.

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If all the tips above fail you and you just need a little pick-me-up, there’s always comfort food.

WATCH: Sometimes nothing beats the cozy comfort of a homecooked meal

Watch below: If you’re feeling down today, you’re probably not alone as Monday was officially known as Blue Monday. It’s labelled as the most depressing day of the year but as Su-Ling Goh reports, there’s not a lot of evidence to support that claim.

Click to play video: 'Is Blue Monday really as depressing as it’s made out to be?'
Is Blue Monday really as depressing as it’s made out to be?

-With files from Global News

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