If you’ve been feeling down, irritable, or low on energy or if you've been craving sweet or starchy foods or sleeping more or less than usual, you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that’s common in the winter months.
If you are, you’re not alone. As the hours of daylight decrease and the temperature outside gets chilly during the winter, many people experience symptoms like these. The duration and severity can vary significantly from one person to another—but the good news is that you don’t have to suffer until spring. You can take steps now to ease these symptoms.
Expose yourself to light. Since a shortage of sun exposure is part of what triggers SAD, sit by a bright window or go out for a walk during the day. If this doesn’t give you enough of a mood boost, consider investing in a light box, which can also help with insomnia, or a dawn simulator: The artificial light from these devices is about 20 times brighter than what’s emitted by ordinary light bulbs and of a different wavelength (10,000 lux of cool-white fluorescent light). The theory is that if you sit in front of a light box for at least 30 minutes each day (ideally first thing in the morning), the light will suppress the release of melatonin (which makes you sleepy) and trigger the release of brain chemicals that are linked to a more upbeat mood.
Stick with a healthy diet. Rather than indulging in lots of creamy, cheesy, starchy, or sugary comfort foods, make or order satisfying, produce-based items. Choose vegetable soups and stews, baked or roasted apples and pears, and you’ll get the hearty and filling sensations that you want without consuming excessive calories.
Stay active. Don’t hibernate or stay cooped up inside. Bundle up and enjoy winter activities like ice skating, snowshoeing, building a snowman with your kids, or going for a walk in the snow. Get together with friends and see movies or go to museums. Engage in fun activities with your kids at home like playing board games or doing arts and crafts while drinking warm cider.
Seek professional help. If you can’t beat feelings of seasonal depression, see a psychologist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy, which can improve SAD and may have longer-lasting benefits than light therapy. And ask your general practitioner whether you're a good candidate for antidepressants (such as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs) that can provide a mood-boosting effect. Keep in mind that it can take several weeks to feel a noticeable difference with these drugs.