It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but not for everyone. Fall and winter bring feasts and holiday gatherings, but for many Americans (especially those of us who reside in the Pacific Northwest), this season also brings Seasonal Affective Disorder.

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SAD is a certain type of depression set off by the lack of sunlight that accompanies the fall and winter months. While there is a rare type of SAD that occurs during the spring and summer, most of the people who suffer do so during the colder, darker months. In fact, as we go deeper into winter, the illness seems to ramp up. The severity of symptoms vary from person to person, and while only a small amount of the population suffers from it, those who do can testify that it alters and disrupts life in a big way--not only for themselves, but also for the people around them.

As with all types of depression, SAD zaps energy, disrupts sleep and appetite, and messes with your moods. As a result, everything in your life is affected, from work performance, to social activities, to relationships. If you suddenly feel blue and can’t seem to shake it, if your sleep patterns are all over the place, or if you are struggling with feelings of hopelessness, you may very well be suffering from this disorder. If you think you are, don’t wait—put together a game plan to help get as close as you can to your normal self, until the sun finds its way back around to us in the spring.  

What can you do?

There are some practical measures you can take the stave off the symptoms of SAD throughout the winter months.

Get a light box. These little boxes provide us with light therapy that’s been proven to aid in reducing the symptoms of SAD. Click here for more information on how to choose one, and please consult your doctor before purchasing. They will be able to diagnose you correctly, determine if you need anything more in the way of treatment, and give you tailored instructions on how to get the best use from your box.

Don’t quit moving. When depression hits, usually all we want to do is stay in bed and keep our distance from other people, but that’s exactly the opposite of what we should do. Exercise increases the feel good hormones that run through our bodies, so boost your serotonin and get to the studio for a rigorous workout! It might even help to bring a friend along.

Eat yourself happy. Sadness does weird things to our appetite. Depending on the person, you may want to eat much more or much less than usual. It’s easy to slip into “comfort eating mode,” but doing so is only going to hurt you. When we eat foods that lack the nutrition we need, we inevitably feel worse, even if our taste buds feel good in the moment. Additionally, if you eat for comfort all winter, when the warmer months show back up, you’ll have to start over on your fitness regimen, which might prolong those feelings of sadness even more. Certain foods, such as black beans, walnuts, green tea, fatty fish, and turmeric (click here to check out this yummy Golden Milk recipe!) help to lift our spirits, while keeping us on track of our health goals. So, make sure you eat living foods for happier moods.

Find a beach! If it fits into your schedule and budget, take a little break, and make your way to someplace sunny. The best cure for minimal sunlight is a heavy dose of sunlight. If a tropical trip isn’t in the cards for you, all is not lost. Purchase a high-quality D vitamin, and take it every day. It will serve as a valuable supplement until the weather starts to heat up, again.

May the winter be good to you, but if it’s a challenge, may you overcome.