What is it?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) comes on in the late fall or winter, when sunlight is in short supply. Symptoms include blue mood, low energy, prolonged sleep, cravings for sugar and starch, and weight gain. SAD has been linked to the hormone melatonin, produced by the pineal gland in the brain. Low levels of light result in increased melatonin production. Another theory is that sunlight affects levels of mood-regulating brain chemicals such as serotonin.
Natural Pick-Me Ups
Do everything you can to increase the amount of natural light that comes into your home. Keep curtains and blinds open. If tree branches block your windows, trim them back. For a room that’s dim, consider having a skylight installed, especially if it’s the kitchen or a living area where you spend a lot of time.
Get Out There
On sunny winter days, take walks outdoors. Even if winter light doesn’t have midsummer intensity, a dose of real sun is far more effective than indoor bulbs. In fact, one study showed that an hour’s walk in winter sunlight was as effective at reducing SAD symptoms as two and a half hours walking under bright artificial light.
Escape the Blues
Plan your longest vacation during the winter months, and get away to a warm, sunny climate if at all possible. Just one or two weeks of escape from winter gloom can provide welcome relief from SAD symptoms.
Join a Gym
While research shows that exercise helps relieve depression, it’s hard to get motivated in the winter. If you join a health club and set up a regular time to go, you’re more likely to get the exercise you need to boost your mood.
Strap on Skis
Adopt a winter sport. Obviously, you’re a lot more likely to get outdoors if there are things you enjoy doing, even when the weather is chilly. If you haven’t explored winter sports before, consider ice-skating, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. Even on gray days, you’ll manage to soak up some sunshine if you’re outdoors exercising.
Try an Anti-Worry Wort
To help lift your mood, take 40 to 60 drops of tincture of St. John’s wort in a glass of cold water three times a day. Once called “God’s grace” or “the blessed herb,” this home remedy now has a venerable reputation as a mild antidepressant. Within the last twenty years, studies have shown that one of its components indirectly helps to increase the mood-boosting brain chemical serotonin.
Down a Mood Booster
Take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement that contains vitamin B6, thiamin, and folic acid. Studies have shown that all of these B vitamins can benefit mood.
Stay Off Sugar
Don’t overdo cookies, candy, and other sugary foods. That refined sugar may give you an initial lift, but afterward your energy plummets and so does your mood. Opt for protein-dense meals that can help increase alertness, Have an egg-white omelet for breakfast, or a chicken-breast sandwich for lunch.