If your smile seems to be drooping along with the temperature, it’s probably not your imagination. Seasonal affective disorder, a reaction to reduced sunlight, affects up to 20% of Americans—and three-quarters of those affected are women. Lethargy, overeating, and being sad can spell disaster for your health. But you can beat it. Here’s how:
Take a sunny stroll
Go walking in a winter wonderland! Sunlight-drenched strolls help clear your SAD symptoms by giving you a boost of vitamin D, which most of our bodies are craving (especially in gray weather). Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to an increase in headaches in the fall and winter, say researchers in a Journal of Headache and Pain study. (Not convinced your D levels matter? Here are the 10 worst things that can happen when you’re low in vitamin D.)
Shed some light
The dark gloom of winter dampens your body’s production of serotonin, a mood-regulating neurotransmitter. Rejuvenate your serotonin stores with a light box that features blue light-emitting diodes. They’re more stimulating and produce less glare than white light boxes. For a simpler fix, open up the blinds! Just make sure you’re keeping your bright light exposure to the morning hours; lots of light late in the day can mess with your circadian sleep cycles.
Burn calories for warmth
We know it’s tempting, but resist the urge to hibernate until spring. A study from Vanderbilt University Medical Center found women moved the least in December, January, and February, burning 10% fewer calories than they do in summer. Exercise is an established blues-beater. So move your body more, and your head (and heart) will thank you. (Follow these 7 ways to beat winter weight gain.)
Pump up your produce
The secret to happiness may be at the end of your fork. Compared with people who eat few fruits and veggies, those who go big on produce are less likely to be anxious or depressed or to suffer from other mental disorders, according to one study of 80,000 people. The more produce people ate, the happier they were. Start with these foods that decrease your chances of getting depressed.
If your mood needs to be soothed, consider a chamomile supplement. A University of Pennsylvania study found chamomile supplements significantly ease anxiety symptoms. (Just check with your doc before starting any new supplement.)
Try a festive hobby
Get excited about winter by taking up a seasonal hobby, says psychologist Elizabeth R. Lombardo, PhD, author of the book A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. Having something fun to look forward to will help elevate your mood during the cold-weather doldrums. (Get stressed this time of year? Here are 24 ways to de-stress from the holidays.)
Lend a helping hand
Look for volunteer opportunities where you can make a difference, Lombardo suggests. Collect coats for the homeless, conduct a toy drive for needy children, or spend time volunteering at an animal shelter during the holiday rush. Philanthropic work is a well-documented mood improver, she says. Here’s how to find the right volunteering fit for you.
SAD-proof your surroundings
You may not be able to control the weather around you, but you can control your own environment, says psychotherapist and wellness expert Jenny Giblin, MFT. Simple switches like painting your walls a brighter or lighter color, buying colorful office supplies, hanging inspiring artwork, and changing the background of your computer to a beachy scene can lift your spirits. (Try these 8 natural mood-boosters for an instant lift.)