Winter is almost here and so is seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD primarily affects people in the winter although it can also strike in the summer. Cold temperatures drive people indoors and onto their couches, making you feel sluggish and unmotivated. To get up in the morning, someone needs to start a strong pot of espresso-ground coffee and turn the water hose on you.
Are you feeling the winter blues already? If you’re feeling lethargic or low-energy, you could be experiencing seasonal affective disorder. Instead of feeling trapped inside by winter, there are ways to enjoy the season and lift up your mood and energy levels.
SAD is a real condition. You don’t have to hunker down and “suck it up, buttercup” this year. Stay ahead of SAD with these simple tips:
1. Brighten up your space
The days grow shorter as autumn turns to winter. And if you love summer, your body is feeling light-deprived. Did you know sitting beside artificial light for at least 30 minutes a day has a similar effect to taking antidepressants? SAD sufferers can benefit from personalized light therapy.
Brighten up your space by inviting natural light, too. Open up your curtains and blinds. Bundle up and clip those thick hedges outside your windows. Then, brew more coffee and sit by the window with a good book.
You can also purchase a dawn simulator, which gradually brightens your room in the morning and makes it easy to get up without feeling like you’re jetlagged.
2. Yes, you can have chocolate
Chocolate is especially popular during the colder months for good reason. It helps relieve anxiety—hello, family drama—and boosts your mood. Go for the dark chocolate, which helps produce anandamide, a neurotransmitter that blocks depression. In Sanskrit, the word Ananda means “bliss” or “divine joy”, which sounds like the description of chocolate to us.
Don’t take this advice as blanket permission to gorge on any and all chocolate. Stay away from artificial chocolate and other super-sugary candy, which only give you temporary euphoria. When the temporary high from the sugar wanes, you’ll feel lethargic, but two squares of rich dark chocolate will perk and fill you up, without the downer afterward.
3. Work it out
One study from Harvard University revealed walking five times a week for 35 minutes or an hour three times a week relieved symptoms of moderate depression. Now combine that with working out under a vibrant light, and you’ve got twice the power to prevent SAD.
Bundle up in your favorite coat and take a short walk with the dog in a local park. Get the kids out and about for a calm nature hike. Some guides at state parks offer tours and educational information about the history of the land and what plants and animals you can look for there.
4. Listen to the beat
Music has been a part of culture since the dawn of man as a form of expression, celebration, healing, and more. When you go through a heartbreak, you turn to music to help grieve and heal your heart. You also use music to feel motivated at the gym.
You can also use upbeat music to improve your mood when you feel the onset of SAD in the winter. Regularly listening to cheery music boosts your mood in the long term, too. Do you listen to gospel, pop, rock, or jazz? Why not do karaoke to your favorite Disney songs? Listen to all the holiday music you want. It may be cheesy, but if it makes you feel good, there’s no wrong choice.
5. Plan to be somewhere else
Some days you just want to be somewhere—anywhere—else. Research reveals simply planning a getaway helps relieve depression and improves overall feelings of happiness. When you’re feeling SAD, start planning your dream trip to Hawaii.
6. You can still go outside
Why would anyone want to go outside in the cold? The answer is to avoid cabin fever and prevent SAD. Being surrounded by nature has been shown to improve mental health in a variety of ways.
Bundle up in a comfy sweater, coat, hat, scarf, and your favorite fall boots, and get outside to reduce SAD symptoms, exposing yourself to the benefits of nature, clean air, and natural light.
7. Breathe easier in better-quality indoor air
In winter, you’ll be spending more time indoors with closed doors and windows—recirculating indoor air and recycling the germs that become trapped. Keep out old, stuffy air and germs by changing the air filter in your furnace. Meanwhile, running a humidifier can add moisture to the air and your skin. Purchasing an air purifier will also reduce the risk of germs messing with your body chemistry to boost your depression and give you a cold.
8. Falling back is setting you back
Falling back one hour on your clock gives you extra time to sleep. However, it’s not helping you when it comes to SAD.
That extra hour of darkness negatively affects your mood and well-being, a new study shows. Prior studies showed that the shift in time affects your natural circadian rhythm, and depressive disorders also have an effect on your natural rhythm. Researchers noted higher rates of depressive disorders in psychiatric hospitals during this transition.
Since billions of others across the world fall back an hour, there’s not much you can do to change this practice. You can treat the effects the same way you would recover from jet lag. Instead of making the transition in one night, start adding an extra hour of sleep to your routine earlier, and use a dawn simulator to help brighten your room at the time you’d usually wake up.
The seasonal affective disorder takeaway
Don’t let seasonal affective disorder catch you off guard. Take preventive measures to ease the burden of feeling trapped indoors.
Bundle up and get moving outdoors, and take steps to make your indoor environment healthier, such as adding an air purifier and brightening the lights. Regularly exercise and listen to upbeat music to stay in a positive mindset. Winter is coming, but not for your happiness.
Editor’s note: First published on 10/17/17, this story has been reviewed and updated for republication. Enjoy.
Jennifer Landis, writer and founder of Mindfulness Mama, has been writing for the last decade and holds a BA in journalism. She is an avid goal setter and achiever.
Jennifer’s proudest accomplishments include two all-natural births, running a marathon, successfully making a croquembouche, and running two half marathons.
In addition to The Doctor Weighs In, her writing has appeared in VeryWell Family, Fortune, Scary Mommy, The Huffington Post, and Women’s Running. Tweet her your favorite health tips @JenniferELandis.