It’s that time of the year when the sun sets in the afternoon for many of us who live in northern states. For some, this heavy, cold darkness impacts them only insofar that they turn on their headlights on the commute home. For others, it can beckon a desire to stay under the covers until the sun shines again in a few months. In fact, about 6% of Americans deals with something beyond the winter blues. They suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a condition that arises during the dark winter months and causes one to feel depressed, irritated, and unmotivated to do the things one would normally want to do.

Although we do not have a full understanding of why some people suffer from SAD and others do not, we have come a long way in figuring out ways to deal with this disorder. If you find that your mood significantly shifts in the winter months, you may benefit from the suggestions below.

  1. Light therapy. For many people with SAD, using a light box (that emits 10,000 lux illumination) each day for about 15-20 minutes can be very helpful. Research light therapy carefully (perhaps even getting the advice from a professional, like a therapist) and be sure to follow the instructions. It is vital that you use your light box every day to feel the full effect.
  2. Therapy. SAD can decrease your desire to engage in activities you once found pleasurable. A therapist, particularly one who espouses a cognitive-behavioral approach, can assist you in changing your thoughts and behaviors to combat the urge to simply stay at home in bed in the dark winter months.
  3. Diet and exercise. As always, a healthy diet and consistent exercise will aid in combating the mood shift that can happen during the winter months. Seek out opportunities to walk outdoors, take the stairs at work, and continue to go to the gym even though you would rather stay in bed. Eating a healthy diet (particularly one that is not too carbohydrate-heavy) can also counteract the feeling of sluggishness that comes with SAD.

Author: Rachel Goldsmith, MS, MA