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Cold, dark days have their perks: Snuggling up by the fireplace and enjoying a cup of hot chocolate while snow falls is a scene straight off a holiday card. But for many people, winter isn't all cozy evenings.
Even if you love the classic wintertime staples — snowball fights, holiday markets, family gatherings — you may still feel like something is off. For whatever reason, you're just having a sad winter. And guess what? You are not alone.
Seasonal affective disorder, fittingly shortened to SAD, is a common depressive mood disorder that arises when the season changes. Though it can affect people during any season, the Mayo Clinic indicates that you're most likely to encounter it in the late fall or early winter. Symptoms include weight gain, low energy, trouble waking up and appetite changes.
If any of this sounds familiar, you don't have to sit and wait for spring to feel better. It's possible to ease the symptoms and make this time of the year more enjoyable. Here are a few things you can do to help.
It may sound cliché, but staying active really does improve your mood. Whenever you break a sweat, your body releases feel-good chemicals known as endorphins. Unfortunately, the winter months often lead to a change in fitness routines. Your schedule is packed, it's cold outside and staying in bed probably feels like a better option more often than not — especially if SAD already has you feeling fatigued. But if you can find an accountability partner and create a winter fitness routine that you'll stick to, you may notice your energy levels and mood pick up despite the gloomy weather.
Talk it out
If you know that this time of the year affects your mood, look for ways to prepare for a SAD winter ahead of time, like visiting a therapist as a preventive measure. They can help you strategize ways to cope with your seasonal affective disorder that work for you, giving you the tools to manage SAD once it arrives.
Give light a try
Light therapy involves exposure to a specific wavelength of light within the first hour of waking up. It's a fairly common form of treatment for people with seasonal affective disorder. The light this therapy uses mimics the natural light you would normally see in the morning during seasons with longer daylight hours, which can help improve your mood. About 60% to 80% of people who struggle with SAD benefit from light therapy. Just be sure to talk to your doctor to determine if this is a good option for you and get a sense for what variety of light you should use.
Stress and anxiety aren't fun on their own, but during darker seasons, they can also exacerbate SAD. Practicing meditation is a great way to fight back against depression when the change in season starts to impact your mood. If you can minimize the amount of stress in your life — or at least develop healthy ways to cope with it — you'll be in a better position to keep depression at bay.
No, essential oils don't fix everything, but while research is still ongoing, studies indicate that aromatherapy may be able to help relieve symptoms of depression.
Does this mean that lavender oil can replace your depression medication? Absolutely not! What it does mean is that it's worth talking to your doctor about adding it to your mental health toolbox.
Don't fear medication
Everyone is different — what reduces the symptoms for one person managing SAD may not change a thing for another. Ultimately, though there are plenty of alternative options, some people will respond best to prescription medication. However, taking medication is a decision you should make with the help of a licensed physician.
You don't have to accept that your winter will be a bummer. It may have dark and dreary days, but there are plenty of bright spots as well — whether they come in the form of fun times with family, a sun lamp or something entirely different, seek them out to turn a SAD winter into something to be excited about.