How I Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder in The Winter
Don't let the lack of sunlight make you sad.
We all get happier in the summer because the days are warmer and brighter; similarly, many people get a case of the winter blues because it's colder and the days are shorter. Living where there is sun all year round would be nice, but for those who can't relocate to tropical islands for the winter, we have to make the most of what we have where we live.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or winter depression is generally a short period of depression people feel during the colder months when there is less sunlight. It typically starts in "late fall or early winter and goes away during the spring and summer," and some people are affected by it longer than others.
Having lived in the Northeast and Midwest of the U.S., I am used to it getting dark around 4 or 5 PM. That's exactly why I do everything I can to feel as sunny as I do in the summer and start getting ready in the fall.
1. Wake up at the same time all year round
I wake up at 8 AM during the warmer months and 7 AM during the winter months (the same time because of Daylight Saving Time) to help my circadian rhythm and sleep better consistently. It allows me to get more sunlight in the colder months because if I snooze an hour extra, I lose an hour of the sun. This habit has been incredibly helpful for my mood.
2. Invest in a sunrise alarm clock
One of the smartest things I did this year was invest in a sunrise alarm clock instead of using my cell phone as my alarm, as it takes away the temptation to check your phone often and improves your sleep quality. Sunrise alarm clocks (dawn simulators) slowly get brighter over 20-30 minutes and wake you like a sunrise. A 2015 study showed that using these can be effective in treating SAD.
3. Experiment with light therapy
I use a light box in the fall and winter early in the day for 30 to 60 minutes because it emits bright light to mimic natural light and can help your mood because winters can be gloomy. A 2017 study showed that light therapy can alleviate the symptoms of SAD and other psychological symptoms.
4. Get more sunshine
It's easy to want to stay indoors during the colder months, which can make symptoms of SAD worse. Spend time by the window and keep your home bright by letting natural light in, and if you work from home, work by a window as it will help, according to Yale Medicine. Make yourself take daily walks around your neighborhood in the morning despite the chilly air and get some Vitamin D, but don't forget sunscreen. My puppy Sloane and I enjoy multiple walks during colder months.
5. Prioritize movement
Exercise is good for the mind and the body. According to Mayo Clinic, in general, working out makes you feel good because it releases feel-good endorphins and reduces feelings of depression and anxiety. Therefore, if you are prone to feeling sad in the colder months, it might make more sense to prioritize exercise, as a 2008 study showed that exercising can help reduce symptoms of SAD.
6. Book a vacation
Have you noticed how much happier you feel when looking forward to getting away? The power of anticipation cannot be undermined, which is why I always have a trip planned. It could be a month or a few months away, but it gives me something to look forward to and improves my mood. A study showed that looking forward to positive events does improve a person's well-being. Book that flight!