Are you SAD this winter? If so, you’re not alone. Twenty percent of Americans suffer from SAD or Seasonal Affect Disorder.

What triggers the winter blues

As winter arrives, the reduced level of sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, sunlight enters the brain through the eyes, stimulating the production of a serotonin, a neurotransmitter that supports nerve cell functioning, including mood. Less light results in lower serotonin levels and more gloomy moods.

At the same time, darkness prompts the production of melatonin, a hormone which promotes sleep. It’s the combination of less serotonin and increased amounts of melatonin that results in SAD.

Diagnosing SAD

Symptoms include sleeping too much, overeating, loss of energy, social withdrawal and difficulty concentrating.

How to beat the blues

Though there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the winter blues, there are a number of suggestions to help lift your mood.

Get outside. There is no substitute for natural light so get outside whenever you can during the day, even if it’s for a short walk. My motto is a few minutes of sun light is better than nothing, so if you’re schedule allows, get out as soon as the sun peeps through the clouds. Midday light, especially, provides Vitamin D to help boost the emotional center of the brain.

Use a light therapy box. Fluorescent light boxes can help boost your mood when you’re unable to get outdoors. Sitting a few feet away is thought to mimic the affects of outdoor natural light. Here are a few suggestions to help narrow down a light box that’s right for you, as they range in price (most $100+).

Exercise consistently. Exercise releases endorphins, which help boost your mood any time of the year. Endorphins also offset the body’s decreased levels of serotonin in winter. In addition, exercise burns calories to offset winter weight gain that afflicts us when it’s too cold and snowy to get outdoors.

Eat less sugar. People with SAD tend to crave carbohydrates, as they promote the production of serotonin. Consuming sweets and simple carbohydrates (e.g., white rice, white break) will result in a rapid increase, and subsequent drop, of blood sugar levels, making you feel sluggish and irritable, thus exacerbating your SAD symptoms. A better option is to eat high quality carbohydrates such as lentils, brown rice and potatoes.

Get enough Vitamin D. Though studies are mixed in support of Vitamin D in treating SAD, it doesn’t hurt to get what you can from your diet. The Institute of Medicine’s daily-recommended amount (for ages 1 to 70) is 600 International Units (IUs). Natural sources include certain fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, rainbow trout), fish oils (like cod liver oil), fortified milk and egg yolks are some of the richest sources of vitamin D.

Eat your Omega-3 fats. According to, studies have long linked deficiencies of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids to depression, as well as to SAD specifically. Oily, fatty fish (mackerel, herring, salmon, sardines, anchovies) are the best sources of omega-3s.

Get outta town! If you can afford to travel out of your gloomy climate, you’ll benefit from the sunshine. Not to mention, who doesn’t get happy to go on vacation?

Stay social. Rather than isolating yourself from those who can cheer you up, reach out to family and friends for regular companionship.

Manage your stress. Consider relaxation techniques such as meditation to keep anxiety at bay.


Photo courtesy.

About the author