5 Ways to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder

While the start of a new year can be exciting, goals and resolutions can begin to fizzle when the winter doldrums set in. Although it's normal to feel a bit more sluggish during the darker, colder months, persistent feelings of depression could be a sign of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

But how can you tell the difference between post-holiday letdown and a more serious problem? The Mayo Clinic reports that most people with SAD begin to notice symptoms in the fall, and many experience moodiness, low energy, and depression throughout the winter months. Oversleeping, changes in appetite or weight, and trouble concentrating might also occur.

If you think you might be suffering from seasonal affective disorder, don't wait for the problem to improve once spring finally rolls around. It's not uncommon for seasonal affective disorder to worsen with time when left untreated. Additionally, the condition can lead to social withdrawal, a host of other mental health disorders, and problems at school or work.

The good news is that seasonal affective disorder is highly treatable. If you're suffering from SAD or other symptoms of depression, it's a good idea to visit your doctor to rule out potential health-related causes, such as thyroid disorders. Nonetheless, there are some simple things you can do at home, starting today, to fend off your winter blues.

1. Light Therapy

Light therapy has been clinically proven to be effective in helping to ease seasonal depression. The treatment involves consistent exposure to a “light lamp” during the first hour of being awake each day. Light lamps help reduce the negative effects of winter's extended dark periods by mimicking the intensity of natural daylight. The positive effects—such as improved mood and energy—as well as better sleep, can be experienced almost immediately. Light therapy lamps can be found at many pharmacies and online marketplaces, such as Amazon.com. The devices typically range in price from about $35-$200+, depending on wattage, size, and other features.

2. Exercise

Physical activity has long been known to help lessen depression, stress, and anxiety—all of which can either cause or exacerbate SAD. To maximize the benefits of exercise, take walks outside during the day whenever possible. The mood-enhancing effects of the sunlight can be felt even on dreary or cloudy days. For best results, get outside within the first couple of hours of being awake.

3. Eat Right

While it's tempting to load up on sugary snacks and other refined foods when you're feeling down, doing so can ultimately backfire and make you feel even worse. Instead, opt for more wholesome, nutrient-dense options, such as colorful vegetables, lean proteins, and meals rich in complex carbohydrates or multi-grains. These foods provide the vitamins your body needs to maintain energy, while keeping your blood sugar levels steady.

4. Increase Your Vitamin D Intake

The short supply of sunlight during wintertime tends to deplete the levels of vitamin D in our bodies. This is problematic, because aside from benefitting our bones and muscles, research has suggested that vitamin D may be necessary for maintaining mental health. While supplements are generally the most effective, the vitamin is also prevalent in foods such as fortified milk, cheese, and orange juice.

5. Socialize

Lastly, avoid isolating yourself when you're feeling down. While many of us tend to hibernate more during the winter months, it's important to continue connecting with others. A quick cup of coffee with a friend can go a long way in improving your outlook.

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