It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but not for those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or milder forms of winter blues. SAD is a type of depression that occurs at a specific time each year, often during the winter, sometimes due to decreased exposure to light. For the approximately 6 percent of people in North America with SAD, winter often means difficulty concentrating, a decrease in energy, loss of interest in work and social withdrawal. Beyond this clinical syndrome, up to 20 percent of people experience mild seasonal mood changes. If you’ve been diagnosed with SAD, or would just like an extra winter mood boost, lifestyle changes can help. Clinical psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, author of the best-seller A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness, offers tips to help you and your family get through the winter blues.
Rise and shine for exercise. Morning moves give you energy and help you feel less depressed. Do the exercise that works for you, whether walking, biking or power pilates. But don't fret if you can't dedicate a lot of time to it: "If working moms can only do 10 minutes, they should do the 10 minutes,” says Dr. Lombardo. "Do what you can."
Go outside. Take advantage of your lunch break to head out and get a little sunshine. Even just opening your curtains to let the light in can make a big difference.
Curb your carb intake. Cravings for carbs, a SAD symptom, can lead to weight to gain, which makes you feel worse. "That influx of sugar and 'non-clean' foods are not going to help your moods or your body,” Explains Dr. Lombardo. “Not to say you can't have any of that, but keep it in moderation."
Address your stress. "Depression can worsen from high levels of stress. How you reduce stress depends on what works for you, anything from deep breathing to socializing with friends and family to asking your hubby for extra help.
Know that kids get SAD, too. Has your tween been feeling increasingly down and unmotivated lately, and for many days? Lombardo recommends checking in with your pediatrician.
While SAD is unpleasant, it is manageable and responds to treatment and strategies like those above. "It's a very real disorder that can lead to really serious problems,” cautions Dr. Lombardo. But there’s a lot you can do to help yourself. “If you control your depression, you're going to be a better mom, a better spouse and a better worker,” she adds. “And you’ll be healthier physically. So this is a really important thing to address—and it's very treatable."