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It’s not just you; the winter months have a way of leaving people feeling depressed and lethargic. The well-named phenomenon is known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, and you very well may have it.

“SAD is a depressive disorder linked to reduced exposure to light in the winter months, which can affect your circadian rhythm and sleep pattern,” said Sarah Benuska, PhD, a MetroHealth psychologist. The good news is, if you find yourself feeling down this season, there are plenty of ways to boost your mood. Here are some strategies Dr. Benuska suggests ― find the combination that works best for you!

Light exposure therapy: Some evidence suggests that using light boxes, which mimic natural daylight, for 20 to 30 minutes a day can elevate your mood.

Enjoy the sunny days: Getting some sun and being in nature can combat depression and anxiety, so put on your warm outdoor wear and enjoy a walk.

Get enough exercise: Regular physical activity can relieve depression and help you sleep better, helping to combat SAD.

Make sleep hygiene a priority: SAD can make you want to sleep more and cause fatigue during the day. To help ensure healthy sleep patterns, go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.

Maintain social ties: Put on your winter coat to see friends and family through small, socially distanced outdoor gatherings, or schedule frequent Zoom calls.

Turn off your screens: Shutting down your technology to enjoy board games or cooking a healthy meal with your family and/or friends is a definite mood booster.

Eat a healthy diet: Leafy greens such as spinach and kale, whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, and lean proteins such as chicken and fish can decrease depression.

Pursue activities you enjoy: Set aside time for activities you love, like reading or listening to music. Creative pursuits like painting or singing can also make you feel better.

Sweating Through the SAD Season

Working out doesn’t just help your physical health – it’s good for your mind, too. Exercise releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel happy. Here are some tips to keep you exercising through the winter months:

Layer up. If you head outside to work out, wear layered clothes that you can take off as you sweat and put back on if you get chilly. Don’t forget your gloves and hat, as well as shoes with good traction.

Stay motivated with friends. A scheduled, socially distanced walk, run or hike with a friend can help keep you inspired to move on days when you might otherwise skip your workout.

Move your exercise inside. If the weather outside is simply too cold or treacherous, try a new activity such as yoga, dancing or a no-equipment aerobic workout. A quick YouTube search will lead you to plenty of free workout videos.

If you’re experiencing severe symptoms of SAD, your primary care provider can refer you to a behavioral health specialist. Many of our health centers have on-site behavioral health staff available for consultations. Schedule an appointment with a primary care provider through MyChart or by calling 800-554-5251.

Learn more about behavioral health services here

Sarah Benuska, PhD