As I made myself breakfast today, I glanced at the outdoor thermometer. The reading of 10 degrees did not improve my mood much, although I was thankful for at least a little sunshine after so many cloudy winter days.

winter blues photoFor many people, January often means the official beginning of a depressing winter. Some of it, no doubt, has to do with that post-holiday crash, but I’m sure a lot of it is a result of some questionable dietary choices over the holiday season and a noticeable lack of sunshine.

In fact, the so-called “winter blues” are a real thing. About 5 percent of the population suffers from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which often brings depression, irritability, sleep and appetite changes, anxiety, and other symptoms. About 10 to 15 percent more of us deal with a slightly milder version of the disorder every year.

I won’t offer any medical advice for SAD sufferers, but for the rest of us, the answer to curing those winter blues can be found in a few simple suggestions. And in the spirit of new year’s resolutions, maybe now is the perfect time to make some changes.

Change #1: Eat Your Way to Better Moods

The first step is to get your diet out of disorder. New Year’s is a popular time to commit to some new, trendy diet, but really just the simple act of getting back to your daily routine will make you feel better. Finish up (or throw out) the rest of those holiday cookies, and start eating normally again. As a dance instructor, I’m a big fan of physical health, and you are what you eat!

Because we don’t get as much daylight as we do during the summer months, we’re also missing out on the valuable vitamin D we absorb from the sun. According to one study, about three-quarters of us don’t get enough of this “sunshine vitamin,” which is generally credited with improving overall mental health. Find out if you are vitamin D deficient with a few key signs. During these shorter days, be sure to add some vitamin D-rich foods to your meals, like fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines), fish oils, fortified milk and eggs.

Healthy carbs also play a role in improving mood this time of year by providing the brain with a nice boost of serotonin, the chemical that makes you feel good. Popcorn, pretzels, brown rice and potatoes are all effective, without the awful sugar crash that comes from other simple carbohydrates.

Change #2: Time for a Workout You’ll Actually Enjoy

That other popular resolution – exercise – is one of the best ways to fight the winter blues and improve your mood all year long. Harvard Medical School explains why in a recent article:

“…the real value is in low-intensity exercise sustained over time. That kind of activity spurs the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections. The improvement in brain function makes you feel better.”

That means you don’t have to start running marathons or join CrossFit to start seeing some real health improvements. But with a resolution failure rate at around 80 percent, it’s more important than ever to find an exercise option that’s not only fun but allows you to explore a new activity and possibly express who you are in a new way.

In the recent article from The Washington Post entitled, “How to make a New Year’s resolution that will actually work,” the author mentions dance specifically as a way to ensure success:

Do something enjoyable. Resolutions around health and wellness can often feel depriving and boring. Consider a fun way toward better health. Add a hobby to your life to find exercise in a playful way. A dance class, new or favorite sport, rock climbing, outdoor adventures, horseback riding, snow sports, anything that seems fun and interesting. Not only is it a workout, but you can also use your brain in a new way, learn a new skill and have fun while doing it.

January will probably never be my favorite month, but with a fresh approach – and a good dance partner – we’ll all get through it together. From all of us here at Overland Park Ballroom, here’s to a year full of sunny skies and all the right steps. Happy New Year!

As a professional dance instructor and owner of Overland Park Ballroom, Amy Castro has been teaching ballroom dance for more than 25 years. What are some of your New Year’s resolutions? Let her know your thoughts by tweeting @OP_Ballroom or by commenting on the Facebook page.