If the cold and lack of sunlight in the winter have you feeling sad, lethargic, foggy-headed or not quite yourself, you’re not alone. About 10 million Americans experience seasonal depression, otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or “SAD,” in the winter months. About 10 to 20 percent of people with SAD have mild symptoms, while about 4 to 6 percent have severe symptoms, and women are about four times more likely to be affected than men are.
The symptoms of SAD may include:
- Mood swings
- Sadness or loneliness
- Insomnia or excessive sleeplessness
- Appetite changes
- Libido changes
- Weight gain
- Lack of concentration
For most individuals, these symptoms are relieved once the weather starts to warm, but for others, the symptoms of SAD may continue for many months. Notable celebrities who have shared that they suffer with seasonal depression include Rosie O’Donnell and Natalie Imbruglia.
If you or a loved one are struggling with seasonal depression, there are several natural remedies that may help alleviate your symptoms. These include:
- Getting some sun. A 2002 study found the rate of production of serotonin was directly related to the duration of bright sunlight. Even just 10-20 minutes of sunlight a day can have a direct impact on your mood.
- Exercising. Staying active has been tied to improved mood and reduced symptoms of depression. If you can’t make it to the gym, try a 10-20 minute walk around your neighborhood or even some light stretching or yoga.
- Phoning a friend. When you’re feeling down, it’s hard to reach out to others. However, initiating meaningful connection—whether it’s a phone call, a text message, or an in-person visit—can help you feel less alone and relieve some of your depressive symptoms.
- Using a sun lamp. If your house doesn’t let in much natural sunlight, try a specialized sun lamp that imitates the quality of light you might find outside. This will help calm your nervous system and balance out the harsh blue light of your screens and devices.
- Taking supplements. Certain supplements, such as Vitamin D and B vitamins, play an important role in regulating mood and energy levels. Make sure you talk to your healthcare provider before taking any supplements.
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Seasonal depression is more common in Northern states. For example, the American Academy of Family Physicians reports that SAD is seven times more common in Washington state than it is in Florida. It is also more common among those who work 9-5 office jobs and may get limited exposure to sunlight during the colder months. Commuting to and from work in the dark and sitting under fluorescent lights all day is enough to put anyone in a low mood.