Feeling sluggish and sad during dark, dreary winter days? Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) could be to blame. According to Cherokee County counselor Rachel Fisher, symptoms of SAD mirror those of regular depression: social withdrawal, changes in appetite and weight, low energy, and difficulty sleeping. Why? Shorter days and a lack of sunlight cause a dramatic dip in serotonin, the body’s natural mood stabilizer. And while you can’t simulate a perfect 80 degree summer day in January, there are ways to beat those winter blues.
During daylight hours, take the dog for a walk, meet a friend in the park, or bundle up to drink your morning coffee outdoors to “boost mood and the body’s vitamin D stores,” says Fisher.
Try light therapy
For those days when you’re stuck indoors, Georgia Tech psychology professor Dr. Paul Verhaeghen recommends the next best thing: a light box or lamp with 2,500 to 10,000 lux. Use it for up to one hour per day—preferably first thing in the morning—to simulate natural sunlight and increase energy.
Whether it’s joining a book club, signing up for a class, or making dinner reservations at a new restaurant, having concrete plans on the calendar can make you feel less isolated and hold you accountable for getting out of the house, says Atlanta therapist Cameron McIntosh.
Work up a sweat
Even if done indoors, 20 minutes a day of moderate exercise like yoga or strength training is enough to increase endorphins, which can make you feel happier and more energetic for several hours, says Fisher.
Talk it out
Reach out to a friend to let them know you’re struggling or consider making an appointment with a licensed therapist or counselor. “The right professional can help you develop coping mechanisms and get ahead of your symptoms before they become debilitating,” says McIntosh.
If SAD symptoms persist for more than a few weeks and none of these strategies offer relief, Fisher recommends making an appointment with a general practitioner or a psychiatrist who can prescribe the appropriate medication and treatment plan.
This article appears in our January 2022 issue.