Does your mood take a nosedive during the winter months? If so, you might be experiencing seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
SAD, which is also known as the “winter blues,” is a form of depression that is brought on by the lack of natural light in the winter. Approximately 6 percent of Americans have this condition, which can cause low mood, weight gain, over- or under-sleeping, irritability, and a lack of enjoyment in activities you once loved. Thankfully, there are plenty of natural and medicinal options to help you through it!
1. Get some light therapy.
Many people rely on light therapy lamps to replace the sunlight they’re missing. These inexpensive light boxes emit light that’s about 20 times brighter than indoor lights.
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Sitting in front of one for 30 minutes (or two hours at the most) each day, particularly in the morning, can alleviate symptoms of SAD and give you an instant mood boost.
2. Pop some vitamin D.
Natural exposure to sunlight provides our bodies with vitamin D, but when natural sunlight isn’t as copious, you might need to supplement it. A vitamin D deficiency has been linked to low serotonin production in the brain, which in turn can lead to depression. It’s best if you can start taking vitamin D supplements well before the winter months begin.
3. Get some exercise, especially in the morning.
Is there anything exercise can’t cure? Working out for as little as 20 minutes each day has been proven to relieve symptoms of depression. Experts say just 20 minutes on a stationary bike can be as effective as light therapy in many cases. Exercise also releases serotonin, one of the brain’s happy chemicals.
Doing your cardio in the morning helps set your circadian rhythms for the day and helps you sleep better at night.
4. Make a sleep schedule — and stick to it!
Speaking of sleep, are you getting enough of it? Having trouble getting to or staying asleep is a symptom of SAD, but sticking to a schedule for bedtimes and wake times helps alleviate symptoms by exposing you to light at consistent times each day.
5. Create a calming mood at bedtime.
Start winding down a few hours before you go to bed by setting the right mood. Lower the lights, play soft music, or perhaps take a warm bath. Adding a few drops of essential oil to your bathwater can incorporate aromatherapy into your routine as well. Certain aromatherapy oils have been proven to inspire feelings of peace and tranquility.
6. Watch what you eat.
When it’s dark and cold outside, it’s tempting to overindulge on sweets and other processed foods, but doing so will just make you feel worse. Select healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, and avoid nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol.
7. Reduce stress.
Stress increases “bad” chemicals that can make depression worse. It’s important to find ways to calm your mind and reduce your worries. Some ideas include practicing yoga or meditation, writing in a journal, reading a book, and spending time with a friend.
8. Get outside.
There’s still sunlight out there, even if the temperatures are chilly! Find activities that force you to get outside and be sure to bundle up. The natural light will make you feel better, while the exercise and fresh air are instant mood boosters.
Make sure you open your curtains wide when you’re in the house, too! Anything to get more light into your life.
9. Get away.
This might not be feasible for everyone, but if you suffer from SAD, you might consider planning a vacation to somewhere warm and sunny during the winter months. Just having a trip to look forward to can help lift your spirits for weeks before and afterwards.
10. Talk to your doctor.
SAD might be a “garden variety” health problem, but it’s still depression. Talk to your doctor to get an official diagnosis and make sure it’s not something more serious. There are also plenty of prescription antidepressants available if light therapy doesn’t work for you.
There are so many options out there to help us cope with SAD, so there’s no reason to suffer in silence! It’s always OK to ask for help so you can live your best life every day.
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