You know how it is: the days get shorter, the air more biting, and sunshine seems like a thing of the past. For many of us, wintertime is a time of hibernation. We stay inside, exercise less, get less fresh air, and indulge in more baked goods — with the result that we often feel less happy and healthy during this time.  Seasonal depression, frequently referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), can make the winters a difficult time for many of us. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s look into some creative ways to cope with the winter blues.

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First of all, what is Seasonal Depression (or SAD)?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Seasonal Affective Disorder usually starts late in the fall, lasts throughout the winter, and goes away in the spring and summer. Here are some of the most common symptoms:

  • Feeling depressed, hopeless, or worthless.
  • Low energy & feelings of sluggishness.
  • Lack of interest in usual activities.
  • Feeling mentally fuzzy & lacking concentration.

Causes of SAD

Though the reasons seasonal depression vary, here are some of the common risk factors and possible causes:

  • Genetics. If your family is more prone to seasonal depression, you are more likely to have it, too.
  • Gender. Women are slightly more likely to get SAD than men.
  • Serotonin. The neurotransmitter serotonin helps regulate your mood. The NIMH suggests that people with seasonal depression have trouble regulating serotonin, contributing to feelings of sadness.
  • Melatonin. Everyone produces the hormone melatonin to regulate their sleep cycles, but people with SAD might produce too much of it. Unfortunately, this can contribute to increased feelings of tiredness.
  • Vitamin D. During the winter, decreased sunlight means that people get less Vitamin D. For people who don’t supplement this vitamin in their diet, there’s a chance that vitamin D deficiency can contribute to their depressed feelings.

Coping with Seasonal Depression

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If you’re feeling seriously depressed, your doctor or psychiatrist can help you seek help. For mild symptoms of the winter blues, try out some of these coping mechanisms:

Light Therapy — Indoors & Outdoors

The concept of light therapy has been around since the 1980’s, when researchers realized that the lack of natural light can be a huge contributing factor to seasonal depression. By investing in a “light box,” which boosts your body with artificial sunlight, you might be able to battle the blues.

It’s also important to get outside, despite the cold. Though the sunlight is less powerful during the winter months, it can still feel wonderful to feel the light on your face. It can even help increase your Vitamin D levels. The fresh air can work wonders on your state of mind, and you can turn your sunshine time into an opportunity for exercise, too. Go for a winter walk and appreciate the beauty of the landscape,  go ice skating with friends, or make a plan to go snow-tubing with family.

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Get Good Sleep

When you’re feeling lethargic and over-tired, it’s more important than ever to get good-quality sleep. Though you certainly want to spend your daytime hours getting as much sunlight and fresh air as possible, a solid night’s sleep can help you feel more refreshed during the day. Researchers say that getting enough sleep can help you reduce stress, maintain a healthy weight, and clear up foggy thinking. Try to stick to a solid sleep routine every day, getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep nightly, and make sure you’re optimizing your sleep quality with a supportive pillow that keeps your body comfortable.

Exercise & Healthy Diet

During the winter (and especially the holidays), over-indulgence abounds. Though it’s lovely to share home-baked cookies with friends and family, it’s also important to retain a balanced diet. Try to limit sugar intake. If you’re feeling an overwhelming sweet tooth, try to turn to natural sugars instead: apples with peanut butter, a spoonful of honey in your afternoon tea. Making hearty and delicious soups can help you add much-needed vegetables into your winter diet, and also give you an excuse to call friends to come over and share a meal!

And exercise is more important than ever. By helping your body release important feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin, exercise can help you battle seasonal depression. Keeping active and fit throughout the winter will also help boost your confidence, get you out of the house, and keep you prepared for springtime to swing around!

Keep Your Mind Active

It’s so important to keep your mind active during the midst of the gloomy winter months. If you’re feeling tired or unmotivated, challenge yourself to take up a new hobby that will keep you occupied. If you’ve always wanted to take up knitting, now is the perfect time. Rent some audio books through your local library and learn about new and exciting topics. Actively reach out to friends and family in person or on the phone. Speaking to others can help us feel less isolated, and keep us interested and engaged.

If you have feelings of seasonal depression, you’re not alone: around 10 to 20% of people may suffer from mild SAD. By keeping mentally and physically active (and involving the help of a psychiatrist or physician if you need it) you can work on staving off the winter blues.