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By Pam Dewey • Mental Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD, managing seasonal affective disorder, seasonal affective disorder care, dealing with SAD, coping with your seasonal affective disorder, winter blues, mental health, dealing with winter sadness, mental health care • January 14, 2021

Winters are long in Minnesota. Along with cold temperatures come snow, ice and shorter daylight hours. Many of us spend far less time outside, which can mean less exercise and less exposure to sunlight.

According to Mayo Clinic, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) “is a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons,” and “your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.”

Some symptoms of SAD include:

  • Low energy
  • Feeling depressed
  • Craving carbohydrates
  • Oversleeping or insomnia
  • Losing interest in pleasurable activities

The cause of SAD isn’t known, but experts believe several factors may play a role. The decrease in sunlight during the winter months can disrupt your circadian rhythm and lead to feeling depressed. Serotonin also affects your mood, and with less daylight, you may experience a drop in serotonin. The winter months can also disrupt your melatonin production, which helps with your sleep.

Here are a six ways to combat the symptoms of SAD.

Get more exercise

When it’s cold outside, you may not want to run around the neighborhood. But there are plenty of ways to exercise inside during the winter months. You could try exercise videos on YouTube, take up yoga, run on a treadmill, lift weights, take up boxing or work out on an exercise bike. Exercise releases body chemicals like endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, which can alleviate SAD symptoms and increase good feelings in your body. 

Let the light in

A simple way to combat SAD is surrounding yourself with as much natural light as possible. Try raising your blinds, opening your curtains or even having your trees trimmed to let more light in light in your home or apartment. If you’re on a home improvement kick, you could even add some skylights to your home.

Maintain a regular sleep schedule

If you have SAD, you might find yourself oversleeping, or you may struggle with insomnia. Setting a regular sleep schedule can help. If you set a regular bedtime of 10 p.m., for instance, you should find it easier to fall asleep and wake up on time.

Take a vitamin D supplement

Some studies have shown taking vitamin D can reduce symptoms of SAD. Vitamin D is produced when your body is exposed to the sun. According to Healthline, over 41% of people in the U.S. aren’t getting enough vitamin D. Some foods have vitamin D in them, but the best way to get more is to take a supplement with about 600-800 IU. Always check with your doctor before beginning a supplement.

Get a dawn simulator or light therapy box

A light therapy box exudes light similar to sunshine, and it’s much more powerful than a regular light bulb. Light therapy boxes were developed to help with SAD, specifically. Your doctor might be able to prescribe you one, or you can find one online.

A dawn simulator is an alarm clock that wakes you up gradually by emitting an increasingly bright light. It is supposed to mimic daylight, and it can help some people with SAD.

Talk to a doctor

If you think you may have SAD, reach out to a doctor or mental health professional. They may recommend some of these treatments, or they might suggest therapy or medication.

Having SAD is just your body’s reaction to the change in seasons. You shouldn’t feel ashamed for experiencing depression. Remember, taking care of your mental health is important, and you should reach out for help when you need it.