Are You SAD in the Winter?

Are You SAD in the Winter?

We’ve only officially been in winter for a few weeks, but many people start feeling the effects of less daylight and colder temperatures starting around October or November.

According to the National Institutes of Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that fluctuates according to the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer.

About six percent of the U.S. population, primarily in northern regions, is affected by SAD in its most marked form, characterized by feeling depressed and hopeless nearly every day, along with an inability to enjoy activities, difficulty concentrating and feeling tired or agitated. Another 14 percent suffers from a lesser form of SAD, known as winter blues, whose symptoms include low energy, weight gain, craving carbohydrates and social withdrawal.

Here are some strategies to get you through the winter doldrums, whether you experience full-blown SAD or the more mild winter blues:

  • Get as much direct exposure to sunlight as possible.
  • Since being out in the sun can be difficult this time of year, either due to cold temperatures or long work days inside, consider purchasing artificial “sunbox” lights. Their special fluorescent tubes mimic the sun’s beneficial rays (plain lights don’t have the same effect). 
  • Keep or start an exercise routine. If it’s not too cold out and it’s a sunny day, try to walk outside to reap the benefits of being in natural sunshine—but even if you work out indoors, it will have a positive impact on your mood.
  • Turn up the heat (between 64 and 70 degrees) and drink hot beverages.
  • Eat healthy foods, with a focus on fruits and vegetables. That’s good advice any time of year, but especially important in winter when your cravings for sugar and carbohydrates tend to increase.
  • Don’t give in to the urge to isolate. Seeing friends and attending social functions are crucial to putting a damper on the blues.
  • Keep active by engaging your creative side, whether it be taking up a new hobby or reintroducing a former favorite pastime. Take advantage of classes at your adult education center or library. Not only will your spirits pick up but you may make some new social connections.
  • Take up meditation and other mindfulness-based practices. You can find literally thousands of guided meditations on a free app called Insight Timer.

Finally, if your depression is severe and impacting your ability to function, it’s important that you seek help from a mental health professional. To contact North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, call (516) 626-1971.