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Winter Blues/SAD – What it is and How You Can Fight it

Winter running exercise couple. Runners jogging in snow. Young asian woman fitness model and caucasian man.Sport couple running in winter.

While some people welcome winter, others find themselves having difficulty waking up in the morning, experiencing daytime fatigue, eating more, gaining weight, losing motivation, reducing social contact, and experiencing general feelings of depression this time of year.

There’s a name for this — seasonal affective disorder, or SAD — a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons. Onset typically begins in late fall and early winter, when temperatures drop and days are shorter, and can continue through spring.

SAD is linked to less daylight, which is magnified further by spending more time indoors. Confinement indoors for long periods, under typical room light levels, essentially creates a replica of eternal winter, overriding the seasonal transition to longer days and the natural bright light exposure that would otherwise break the winter cycle with a spontaneous return to normal mood, energy, appetite, and sleep.

The sensitivity to these changes varies by individual. Some people react to the first signs of seasonal change around the fall equinox in September, while others’ moods don’t plunge until December. The most common period for the onset of a SAD episode is late October through November. January and February are the worst months overall, and the symptoms often don’t fully subside until early May.

The good news is that there are plenty of steps that you can take to counteract the effects of SAD! Here are five mood-boosting methods to use during the overcast months of the year.

#1 Get as much natural sunlight as possible — it’s free! A little bit of exercise and time outside can dramatically impact mood and reduce stress, even on a cold day. Walking outside can also increase creativity, as walking encourages a free flow of ideas.
#2 Reach out to family and friends—and let them help. Close relationships are vital in reducing isolation and helping you manage SAD. Participate in social activities, even if you don’t feel like it. It may feel more comfortable to retreat into your shell but being around other people will boost your mood. Make the effort to reconnect or start new relationships.
#3 Eat the right diet. Eating small, well-balanced meals throughout the day, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, will help keep your energy up and minimize mood swings.
#4 Exercise Regularly. Regular exercise can boost serotonin, endorphins, and other feel-good brain chemicals. Exercise can also help to improve your sleep and boost your self-esteem.
#5 Switch to LED lightbulbs. LED bulbs are made to simulate sunlight and may help keep your circadian rhythm (your sleep/wake cycle) steady as the seasons change.

As with any condition, there can be many different causes and contributing factors for seasonal affective disorder, always seek medical attention or consult your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

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