5 Ways to Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder & The Winter Blues

5 Ways to Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder & The Winter Blues

Carolyn Purnell
Jan 14, 2015
(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

It's that time of year again, when everything is gray, white, and gloomy. The pallor of winter can all too often cast a similar sickliness on your mood, and when it's so cold outside, it's difficult to motivate yourself to push past the doldrums. But there are several things that you can do to fight the winter blues.

The National Institute of Mental Health describes Seasonal Affective Disorder as "the onset of depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight," and symptoms can include a lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, a tendency to oversleep and overeat, and a loss of interest in pleasurable activities.º Obviously, if you have acute SAD, you should rely on the advice of a mental health professional, but for mild cases or for individuals who are just feeling a bit less motivated than usual thanks to the winter weather, here are a few suggestions:

1. Light therapy.

One reason that your mood may be a bit darker is because you aren't getting enough exposure to light. Resolve to spend some time outside each day, even though you may not want to brave the elements. Even if it's just a five-minute walk to the corner of the block, having some time outside can boost your spirits. Alternatively, you can use a sun lamp, which is designed to simulate the rays that you would get in sunnier months.

2. Take up exercise and watch your diet.

If you have SAD, it can be hard to muster the willpower to expend your energy, but you should force yourself to stay active. It will often improve your mood, help you feel better, and boost your metabolic rate. Think about combining this with some outdoor time. Jog, ice skate, take a brisk walk to your local café–anything that gets the blood moving and the sun on your skin is a good thing. Also, beware the desire to overeat carbohydrates and other "comfort foods." Be sure that you're getting all your vitamins and keeping yourself healthy, or it will be even harder to shake the sleepy, belly-filled, couch potato blues.

3. Use an air ionizer.

Some people have reported feeling better when they sleep with an air ionizer. According to Michael Terman, a psychiatrist at Columbia University, "Summer air, in contrast to winter air, is highly concentrated with negative ions. The negative ion machines we use are designed to mimic summer-like conditions by supplementing the sparse winter ion supply."º He does note that the dose from most air purifiers is too low to be effective, but if you already have one, it can't hurt to use it regardless. Better sleep can work miracles.

4. Stick to a routine and make commitments.

If you don't feel like doing something and you don't really have to do it, then chances are, you won't. Adding structure your daily activities like exercise, cooking, cleaning, and going out will ensure that they feel more like a necessary part of life than like optional activities. Habit is a powerful creature, and if you cultivate positive habits, they can help get you through some rough patches. I'd also suggest committing to social activities in advance. Often, if someone asks me to do something at the last minute in the winter, I'm much too cozy or tired to want to go, but if it's on the calendar a week in advance, I committed to going. As the time draws nearer, I may still not want to go, but once I'm there, I usually feel glad that I did.

5. Spend more time with loved ones and take time for yourself.

There's nothing more uplifting than getting a dose of positive emotions from the people you love. Whether it's tea with a friend or game night with the family, find ways to surround yourself with people who make you happy. Meditation is also a great practice to start. It reduces stress, gives a sense of peace, and helps you feel more at ease with yourself, which can cut the edge on all the negative feelings that can come with SAD.

For more information on SAD, the canonical book Winter Blues by Norman E. Rosenthal offers plenty of other tips, as well as more information on the symptoms.
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