•Walk towards the light. Cost: Free
This tip from psychologist Margaret Wehrenberg in Psychology Today helps those with SAD, but will also give you a lift if you're trying to shake the ordinary winter blahs. "Get outside for 30 minutes in the middle of the day and take a walk," she advised. "It helps activate your brain and you will feel more energetic, not less, if you get outside. Natural light always trumps artificial light, and even on a cloudy day you will get a fair amount of the right kind of light to wake up your brain." Not feeling the fun factor here? Make the idea of walking outdoors more appealing by doing like the kids do and playing a game with a companion while you walk. Follow the Leader is a good one, or "side of the path" Bingo. For the latter, give yourself a point each time you see, for example, red berries, a recycle bin, a cat in the window and a feather on the ground. Whoever gets the most points wins, say, a hot beverage prepared by the other. Change the items that need to be spotted and your route for the next day.
•Take creativity to the tub. Cost: $10
So you're not in a Jacuzzi with a tropical beverage in hand. Innovate! Take to your own tub, with your mate or by yourself, with tub crayons in tow. Have fun drawing all over the walls while you soak in warm water. Win, win.
•Grow something small inside. Cost: $2, $5 or $7
While it's also mood-boosting to browse colorful seed catalogs, it's far more active and less budget-busting to start growing something indoors. Yes, now, when you're feeling trapped and out of sorts, not next spring when you're already hopeful and bouncy. This nurturing of small plants or seeds into larger plants and flowers taps into a feeling of being responsible for the growth and blossoming of life, psychotherapist Sheri Jacobson told the Huffington Post. "This is an activity which, similar to caring for a pet, can help with feeling worthwhile and purposeful, and thus helping to combat depression." Three good growing projects for beginners:
•Roar back at the weather. Cost: Free
To get your blood pumping, a quick boost to the metabolism and amused stares from the neighbors, taunt the weather. Saunter out to the mailbox in shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops and then race back yelling "I am mighty!" (Or insert your favorite affirmation here.) Bellow "Let It Go" while you shovel (not snowblow) the walk or driveway, or dress warmly and go howl at the moon for 60 seconds every night at the same time. If it's torrential rain keeping you homebound (but it's not thundering), apply your facial wash and then use rainwater to rinse it off – while you're in your bathing suit, outdoors. The idea is that if you can gain the upper hand with the weather for a few seconds, you can tolerate it with good humor for a few more days.
»Snow day? 5 kid-friendly craft ideas to ward off cabin fever
•Bump up your comfort food with tropical ingredients. $6
It's not just your imagination. When you're stuck inside and it's cold out, you really do experience a biological craving for denser nutrition, Paula Pavelka, a registered nurse and certified health counselor in Palo Alto, California told Parents. "You should just go with that inclination to eat more substantial, hot foods than you might in the warm months."
But to keep cabin fever from setting in after you indulge, get creative with lower calorie ingredients that still zing. Pavelka's favorite: mango chili, made by substituting frozen mango chunks or pieces of fresh, firm mango for half the diced tomatoes in your chili recipe. Top each bowl with more chopped mango.
•Host a fruit-salad exchange. $10-$12 each for 6-8 adults
Speaking of tropical, remember that Christmas cookie exchange? To get both the social interaction that battles cabin fever and lots of delightful vitamins and fiber, why not try a fruit salad exchange with as many friends as you can get interested? Each person brings enough cut-up fruit for all, and you make up a line to dip out a half-cup at a time in take-home bowls (that way no one swipes all the raspberries, for example.) Put a signup list on a social network, and list all the prime ingredients including watermelon, pineapple, star fruit, kiwi. Not only will it taste great, but you'll also have enough exotic fruit salad to cheer up at least a couple of work lunches.
•Hold a suitcase party. $15 each for 10-20 adults
About that Caribbean vacation. So you can't afford it and neither can any of your friends. But together you could afford a much more modest getaway – for two of you. A suitcase party is the fun way to make that happen.
Here's how you do it: Invite all your friends to contribute $15 for a possible getaway for two in your area. When you know whether you have $150 or more to spend, comb Groupon, Airbnb and other discount local travel options. Put together a modest package for an overnight that includes accommodations for two, an outing and maybe brunch. And here is how you all get to enjoy the break from winter discontent: pair up and come to a "Suitcase Party" potluck and music. Everyone dresses the way they'd need to if they won the final prize and is prepared to leave that evening. Each pair is assigned a numbered ticket that corresponds to the same numbers in a bowl. Start around 6 p.m. Every 20 minutes, in a reverse elimination, randomly choose one number. Those two stay at the party, and so on, until just one couple's number is left. They depart for the excursion and the rest of you continue to enjoy your winter get-together.
•Roast up some winter pep. $10
The dark makes our bodies crave sugar in the colder months, and that adds pounds and the old "sugar-high, sugar-low" cycle, both creators of cabin fever. Fight the urge by eating naturally sweet dishes, like Pavelka's recipe for roasted root vegetables. She cubes sweet potatoes, carrots, onions and beets, tosses them with about a tablespoon of olive oil, and roasts them on a baking pan in a preheated 400°F oven. Check the mix after 20 minutes, stir if needed and take them out when they're nice and brown.
•Hit the aquarium or pet store. $0
Living, breathing things can coax you out of the winter doldrums. But instead of spending the big bucks to visit the local aquarium or zoo, see if you can't find a local pet store with birds and guinea pigs and such. Or, look for an aquarium store (saltwater is the best) where you can spend minutes or hours gazing at the tropical fish.