Don’t let winter make you SAD

Here are simple ways to help

If you get the blues for Christmas, New Year’s, or the end of Daylight Savings Time, you may be one of approximately 10 million Americans affected by SAD — Seasonal Affective Disorder. This is a form of depression that is linked to diminishing daylight hours, and its symptoms are similar to those of major depression: listlessness or lack of energy, depressed mood, loss of appetite (or, conversely, an increased appetite for carbs), and lack of interest in the things you normally enjoy.

SAD is caused by the shorter, darker days of winter, which trigger hormone changes associated with our circadian rhythms–physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle roughly approximating daytime/nighttime hours. Low light signals our body that it’s time to sleep, and sleep is also the signal for a variety of hormone-mediated rest and repair cycles to activate.

Although you can’t change the seasons or the weather, there ARE simple steps you can take to prevent or alleviate SADness:

  1. Get as much natural light as possible. Throw back the curtains first thing in the morning, get outside for a run or walk, drink coffee on the porch, eat lunch in the park, or run errands before sunset. Treat the shortened daylight hours as the precious resource they are.
  2. Consider buying daylight simulation light bulbs, or a lightbox. The color spectrum of daylight simulation bulbs and lightboxes approximates that of sunlight, which not only brightens our mood, but also stimulates Vitamin D production and can improve sleep cycles.
  3. Take your vitamin D supplements. Since we normally rely on sunlight for most of our vitamin D, it’s especially important to supplement our intake during the darker days of winter. Depressed vitamin D levels are associated with SAD and vitamin D supplementation, along with light therapy, are common treatments.
  4. Exercise—preferably outdoors and with friends. Continuous, rhythmic full-body exercise—such as walking, running, swimming, dancing, aerobics class, skating, handball, pickle ball, Nordic skiing, or martial arts—for 30 to 60 minutes every day, if possible, has been shown to deliver the most benefit to SAD sufferers. You can double the benefits by exercising with others, thereby reducing the isolation that intensifies SAD symptoms.
  5. Stay connected. It’s easy to want to stay at home when the skies are dark and the weather stormy, so you must actively resist the temptation. Invite friends over, meet for a drink, volunteer at the animal shelter, join a book club, attend a school board meeting, or even join a SAD support group. If in-person gatherings are problematic, connecting via Zoom, Skype, or Facetime is better than no connection at all.
  6. Nourish your body. SAD can make us lose our appetite, or conversely, crave starchy, carb-laden “comfort foods.” Combined with less exercise, these carb cravings can be a recipe for unwanted weight gain. So do yourself a favor and focus your carb consumption on complex carbohydrates like whole grain bread and brown rice, and make sure to eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and “embryonic foods” like eggs, nuts, and seeds. Omega 3 fats are also helpful. These are found in walnuts, oily fish such as salmon, halibut, and sardines, as well as in soybean, flaxseed, and canola oils.
  7. Consider an evening hobby. Giving yourself something to look forward to (besides binge-watching Netflix with a carton of ice cream on the couch) can brighten your mood—and maybe become a new activity to engage with others!
  8. Maintain your sleep schedule. Although it’s easy to oversleep when the sun fails to get you out of bed in the morning (and depression only makes this tendency worse), try to maintain your normal sleep schedule. This will help regulate the hormones that are implicated in SAD and anchor you in your normal—and normally productive—schedule, which counters any tendency towards depression.
  9. Begin each day with joy. I recommend this whether or not you experience SAD! Rather than immediately turning to your cell phone, try starting you day with inspirational reading, appreciation of your blessings, or contemplation of my daily Inspirations (available on Apple or Google Play), such as this one: “Your harshest critics are really very critical of themselves, not you.”
  10. Talk to your doctor if symptoms persist or are interfering with your ability to execute the activities of daily living.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider, who should also be consulted with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.


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