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What to Do About the Winter Blues

If you tend to feel gloomy when the temperature dips, you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or its milder form, the winter blues. It’s unknown what specifically causes SAD, but the lack of sunshine during shorter winter days may play a role. Less sunlight can lead to changes in your circadian rhythm (which can mess up your internal clock), decreased production of serotonin (a feel-good neurotransmitter), and altered levels of melatonin (a hormone affecting sleep patterns and mood).

There are other factors that could make you more likely to develop SAD: if it runs in your family, if you already have major depression or bipolar disorder, or if you live far north or south of the equator. Women tend to be diagnosed with SAD more often than men, while younger adults experience it more frequently than older adults.

How do you know if you have seasonal affective disorder? There are a number of symptoms, such as losing interest in things you used to like, oversleeping, craving carbs, having low energy, and frequently feeling depressed or suicidal. These symptoms generally appear during late fall or early winter, and go away in the spring and summer.

You Think You Might Have SAD. Now What?

As much as you’d love to, immediately moving to Florida probably just isn't in the cards. Instead, make an appointment with your doctor for an evaluation. If your doctor diagnoses you with SAD, you can try the following techniques to help manage your seasonal affective disorder.

Seek out the sun. Since the sun is scarcer in the winter, pick a sunny spot by the window when you’re reading or working on winter sewing projects. And as cozy as your home may be, don’t stay curled up indoors all day. Just remember to apply sunscreen that’s at least SPF 30 half an hour before sun exposure no matter the time of year.

Get a move on. Exercise may help ease SAD symptoms, so pick up a winter sport, such as skiing or ice skating, or go out and get your winter chores done. If you know you’re prone to hibernating, make yourself accountable by signing up for a curling league or making a pact with a friend to take brisk walks on weekends when the weather is more mild. On days when it’s simply too cold to leave the house, use an exercise app to make sure you still get your sweat on.

Watch what you eat. It’s tempting to turn to rich, high-calorie foods when it’s cold out, but there are equally hearty healthy foods out there, too. Try a robust chicken soup for dinner, and Easy Poached Pears make a delicious dessert.

Spend time with your loved ones. Remember that you aren’t alone. Reach out to your support system and make an effort to see your friends and family. Or host a party. It doesn’t have to be a big, formal affair. Keep it simple—the most important thing is to be with the people you love.

Talk to a professional. A mental health professional can help determine the best way to treat seasonal affective disorder. Rather than trying to beat the blues yourself, don’t be afraid to work with a professional to come up with an action plan to help you this winter.

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