As the days grow shorter and colder, it can be tough to stay productive. Although a touch of the winter blues is natural for many people, about 1 in 20 adults in the U.S. feel the effects on a deeper level. These people suffer from something very real called Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD).

What is SAD?

SAD is a form of depression that changes with the seasons. In the warmer months, it may manifest in trouble sleeping, poor appetite, and even chronic anxiety. During the drearier months, those suffering from SAD typically feel lethargic. They are prone to oversleeping and overeating – especially when it comes to simple carbohydrates. 

Both the disruption of your biological clock (or circadian rhythm), as well as reduced levels of serotonin (the “happy” hormone) and melatonin (a chemical that assists with maintaining sleep and mood patterns) play roles in Seasonal Affective Disorder. A family history of depression and your distance from the equator also contribute to this disorder.

Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder is only half the battle, though. In order to truly combat these winter blues, you need to be proactive.

Tip #1 – Get Plenty of Sunlight

Example of Light Therapy LampThe first, and most obvious, method of preventing your body and mind from slipping into SAD-ness is by going outside. Studies have shown that even a 10-minute walk around the block is enough to keep your brain happy and healthy. If the weather is less than ideal, a window makes a nice occasional substitute.

Those of you with windowless offices or bedrooms may want to consider investing in a light therapy lamp. These special lamps shine at a frequency that mimics true sunlight, which in turn helps you maintain a consistent circadian rhythm. Shine it on your face for 20-60 minutes a day to maximize these benefits. If waking up is more of a struggle, consider investing in a simulated sunrise alarm clock

Tip #2 – Try Aromatherapy

You may have heard how closely smell is linked with memory. Did you know it can influence your mood, too? Let’s use that to our advantage! If you catch yourself feeling down, try invigorating yourself with essential oils made from these ingredients:

  • Orange
  • Grapefruit
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Eucalyptus

Aromatherapy diffusers are a wonderful tool for boosting your mood at home, but the scents spread too far for most office settings.

For good vibes on the go, I recommend investing in either a piece of aromatherapy jewelry or a personal diffuser. These necklaces or bracelets come in all sorts of styles for men and women. There just needs to be at least one lava bead to sprinkle a few drops of your favorite essential oil.

Tip #3 – Maintain Healthy Habits

Bikini season may be over, but that’s no excuse to stop taking care of your body. Yes, your body needs carbs, but don’t give in to the temptation to overindulge. Doing so will make you feel more sluggish than before. And when you feel sluggish, you’re probably not going to want to do much of anything other than surfing YouTube or Facebook.

And remember – exercise doesn’t have to be intense to be effective. That 10-minute walk outside doesn’t only benefit you by getting you out in the sun, it gets your blood pumping too! Mindfulness activities like yoga and meditation can create similar effects.

Tip #4 – Keep Busy

One of the best ways to combat depression of any kind is to keep your mind busy. If you’re an extrovert, now is definitely the time to keep your social calendar full. Another option is to tap into your creative side and cultivate a hobby or two.

My mom has crafted many holiday gifts over the years, and now that I’m an adult, I follow suit. As soon as it starts getting cold, I bust out my paintbrushes and Pinterest boards and immerse myself in creating art for my loved ones. As long as I budget my time appropriately, it’s a win-win!

If you’re not crafty, now may be the time to catch up on that reading list (or podcast) you’ve been neglecting. Use apps like Libby to borrow digital books from your local library and dive into a new world!

Tip #5 – Use Your Support System

A good support system is critical for everyone year-round, not just those suffering from SAD. When you’re feeling down, don’t be afraid to reach out to friends or family members to talk through what’s on your mind. If they don’t know how to directly help, just listening can be enough to help in many cases.

Another option is to journal. You can do this the old-fashioned way using a pencil and notebook, or utilize an app like DayOne to record your thoughts. Once again, the goal is getting those thoughts and feelings out of your head. It’s ok if they stay in a private space. 

Worst case scenario, please reach out to your doctor. If you’re unsure where to start, know that a specialist isn’t always necessary. Your family doctor should be able to point you in the direction that is right for you. The right path may be one of the options above, supplements, or other medications. Everyone is different, so don’t beat yourself up if the first path you take doesn’t completely conquer your SAD. Keep trying and remember that sunny spring is only a few months away!