Less hours of daylight, cold weather, and cold and flu season in the winter can make even the most optimistic of us feel down in the dumps. Therefore, it makes sense that five to six percent of Americans experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), with 90 percent of those being women and young adults. It is common to feel downhearted during the winter months — even for those without SAD — but you don’t need to fly out to a tropical paradise to fight the winter blues.

We still have a long ways to go before basking in the summer sun. In the interim, we end up sleeping more, socializing less, and endlessly indulging in carb-laden foods. Although it may be tempting to hibernate for the season and roll out of bed once spring comes, there are do-it-yourself ways to stave off the winter blues, even for those without SAD.

1. Take Your Vitamins

Since the days are shorter and the nights are longer, vitamin D levels drop during the colder and darker months. A way to get vitamin D — as if you were soaking up the sun — would be to take vitamin D supplements. An NYU study found people with SAD saw improvements in various measures of mood.

Dr. Jennifer Strider, naturopathic doctor at Simple Family Health in Oakland, Calif., believes it makes common sense for vitamin D to have a strong effect on mood. The body produces vitamin D when it is exposed to the sun, which may help explain why we tend to be more alert and active during the warm sunny months.

“There are vitamin D receptors on every cell in the body, including cells in the nervous system, so having appropriate vitamin D levels help those cells to function optimally, which in turns results in a better mood,” she told Medical Daily in an email.

2. Breathe Out The Blues

Randomly experiencing levels of sadness during the winter months could be an indicator something is not in sync with your body. The key is to relax and return to a peaceful state of mind.

“Returning to a place of balance with mindfulness exercises, such as tai chi and yoga, doesn't just bring with it the mood-boosting benefits of exercise, but can also restore you to a contemplative, restful, peaceful state where you can better handle the fluctuations that come with changing seasons,” Joshua Duvauchelle, a managing editor for LIVE Health Magazine in Vancouver, B.C., told Medical Daily in an email.

Practicing yoga can help people cope with anxiety, depression, and cold and flu illnesses. Yoga can modulate the stress response system by reducing perceived stress and anxiety. A 2005 study published in the Medical Science Monitor found after three months of taking two 90-minute yoga classes a week, women who originally described themselves as “emotionally distressed,” showed improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and well-being.

3. Exercise

A good workout can be one of the best ways to combat the winter blues. Exercise can make you feel like you have accomplished something and make progress toward goals rather than feeling inactive. While exercising, “not only do you get a boost of endorphins you also decrease your stress hormone cortisol,” Dr. Simon Rego, director of Psychology Training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine told Medical Daily in an email.

You don’t have to do extreme exercise to reap its depression-reducing benefits. A 2005 Harvard Medical School study found walking fast for about 35 minutes a day five times a week or 60 minutes a day three times a week did have a significant influence on mild to moderate depression symptoms. This is no surprise, since exercise boosts endorphins which improve natural immunity and reduce the perception of pain.

4. Color Your Sadness Away

Color therapy can help boost your mood and stimulate certain feelings during the dark and gray winter months. Duvauchelle affirms this is a powerful way to help you stay emotionally balanced.

“Violet and red increases energy,” he said, “and yellow and green have been shown to make people feel more upbeat and happy.” Duvauchelle suggests incorporating these colors into your surroundings with either a painting, a vibrant coffee mug, a potted houseplant, or a comfy blanket.

5. Aromatherapy

Scents can be utilized to provide solace and evoke pleasant memories. Using aromatherapy can enhance your sense of pleasure and improve your mood. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found aromatherapy can be effective for people with depression symptoms, specifically lavender. However, Dr. Moe Gelbart, a licensed clinical psychologist at Torrance Memorial Medical Center in Torrance, Calif., told Medical Daily in an email: “Just be careful not to rely on them too much and to add to mix activities that also give you a sense of mastery/accomplishment.”

6. Eat Chocolate

Chocoholics may rejoice by the fact dark chocolate can actually boost your dopamine levels in your brain. This is because chocolate is high in tryptophan and phenylalanine, and tyrosine, and like other amino acids, these nitrogen-rich compounds are building blocks of all the body’s proteins, according to the Harvard Health Publications. They are precursors of adrenaline and dopamine. So munch away on dark chocolate. It's at least 70 percent cocoa and boosts the production of phenylalanine.

These cool ways will help stave off your winter blues effectively.