It's that time of year again. The holidays are over and the next few months seem to offer nothing to look forward to but gloomy grey skies, bone-chilling weather, and piles of snow. It's no wonder why many people suffer symptoms similar to those of depression, such as sadness, fatigue, and irritability during these long winter months.

If you don't have the luxury of escaping to a warm tropical island until April, there are other more feasible ways to beat the winter blues.

With a lack of sunshine to keep you energized, it's tempting to want to spend your evenings hibernating under the covers instead of being active. But remember, exercise is known to increase your levels of serotonin and endorphins, leading to a happier mood. While it's understandable that many people are less than keen about participating in outdoor activities during these chilly months, keep in mind that there are many ways to keep active while staying indoors. Join a gym class, walk on the treadmill while watching TV, or try out a new lively game on Wii.

Building and maintaining social networks is an important way to keep a positive outlook. When you're feeling down, it's natural to want to isolate yourself from others. But spending time with family, friends, and other people is a sure way to lighten your mood. Try joining a weekly art class or volunteering for a local organization. If you can't bear the thought of leaving your cozy home, then organize and invite your friends over for regular game nights or TV nights.

Take vitamin D
In the summer, we normally get the vitamin D we require from the sun. However, you may not be getting a sufficient amount of vitamin D during the winter because of decreased exposure to sunlight. Many studies have suggested a link between vitamin D deficiency and poor mood. Although more research is needed to confirm that this vitamin can lift your mood, supplementing with vitamin D during the winter months will give you many of the other benefits you may be missing. These include enhanced calcium absorption and proper bone health. Be sure to speak to your doctor before starting any supplements.

Keep a regular sleep schedule
Research has shown that lack of sleep may actually lead to anxiety, mood disorders, and depression. To keep a regular sleep-wake cycle, make sure you go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. It's important to avoid naps throughout the day as they can throw off your sleep schedule. To help get you energized and ready for the day, try sleeping with the blinds open so you are exposed to sunlight as soon as you wake up. Otherwise, try to get out into the bright light as soon as possible.

Eat well
When you're feeling down, it's natural to want to turn to comfort foods that are loaded with fats and sugars. But constant consumption of these carbs-containing comfort foods can cause weight gain. Stick to healthier foods that will keep your energy levels up, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and foods packed with protein. This will keep you healthy while giving you the energy you need to stay active and social until a brighter season comes along.

If following these tips does not help lift your mood, make sure you speak with your doctor. You should also see your doctor if you experience feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, if you lose interest in things that you normally find enjoyable, if you have difficulty concentrating, have trouble sleeping, or if you experience any changes in weight.

Lisa Tourountzas