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Lifestyle Methods to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder

By Lauren MacDonald

Medically Reviewed by Greg Dorter, RP

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is commonly referred to as the winter blues or winter depression. People typically experience it starting in the fall and all through winter. Sunny summer days and warm weather can improve your mood, so it makes sense that the time change combined with cooler weather and shorter days can have a negative impact on your mental health.

Seasonal affective disorder, technically known as Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern, is a type of depression that can be associated with increased anxiety, sadness and stress, lack of enjoyment in regular activities, feelings of isolation, mood swings, and several other symptoms that can take over your life. But there are ways to help deal with it, so gather your inner strength and kick your winter blues to the curb with these 10 lifestyle methods to cope with seasonal affective disorder…

Exercise Regularly

It seems that almost every health issue could be helped by making sure you exercise regularly and it’s easy to understand why. While regular exercise improves your physical health, it can also greatly improve your mood during the cold winter months. When you exercise, endorphins are released into your body, bringing forth positive feelings and increasing your energy.

You’ll also reap the benefits of regular exercise—increasing your strength, cutting down your body fat, and feeling good and healthy overall. And of course, couple regular exercise with eating well, and your whole body will feel better.

Make Social Plans

It can be tempting to plop yourself on your couch and watch endless hours of TV when you’re experiencing seasonal affective disorder, but doing so will only make things worse. Instead of hibernating, make plans with friends and family. Get out of the house at least once a week, if not more.

Even meeting a friend for a cup of coffee could lift your spirits. Going out could also help you adjust better to the fall and winter months, and make things feel a little less doom and gloom by preventing the seasonal changes from affecting your social life.

Plan a Trip

For people living in more northern areas that have drastic changes in weather like snow, rain and freezing temperatures, sometimes you just need to break up the dark months with a trip to somewhere hot. If possible, go on a trip down south to get a week of sunshine and warm weather—something that will lift your spirits while getting an enviable tan.

On top of the short burst of heat, planning a trip also gives you something to look forward to. Counting down the days until you get several relaxing, warm days of sunshine is a great motivator and way to improve your mood.

Soak Up the Sun As Often as Possible

While you may not enjoy the cold weather, odds are there are quite a few days during the fall and winter months when you can layer up and spend time outside. The sun might not be around for as long as you’d like, but going outside and soaking up the rays whenever you can could help reduce your symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

Our bodies crave sunlight, so instead of coping up in your house for 5 or 6 months, bundle up and head outside. Who knows—you might even learn to appreciate the cooler temperatures.

Let the Light In

One of the easiest ways to help cope with your winter depression is to let daylight into your house wherever and whenever you can. It’s common to close your drapes and blinds during the winter because of the cold weather and fewer hours of sun, but uncovering your windows to let natural daylight shine through could give you the mood boost you need to get out of your funk.

Sit near windows when you can, and don’t close your drapes until the evening. Accepting and embracing the daylight you’re given could help you get past some of the symptoms you experience from seasonal affective disorder.

Light Box Therapy

Light box therapy is a popular and often very effective way to cope with mild seasonal affective disorder. They’re effective because they mimic the sun’s rays. You should use the light box every day in the morning to get the most benefits from it, and you can turn it on while you do normal tasks, like talking on the phone, eating breakfast, or working.

Doctors differ in opinion on how many hours you should be exposed to light boxes, and like any form of depression, what works for one person might not work for another. Talk to your doctor to see where you should start.

Consider Seeing a Therapist

Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression, and sometimes the best treatment is talking it out with a therapist, or using a combination of therapy and lifestyle changes. If you experience moderate to severe winter depression, meaning it affects several areas of your life and prevents you from doing things, seeing a therapist could help.

Sometimes small lifestyle changes are enough to pick someone up when they’re feeling low, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Seeing a therapist can get you to address negative feelings and learn how to change your perspective and behavior accordingly. It may also help prevent you from falling into the same cycle in the years to come.

Make Room For ‘Me Time’

Me time isn’t just about being alone—it’s a time for you to be selfish (because you deserve it) and do something that you want to do. Read a book, take a bath, rent a movie, get a pedicure, try a new recipe—it simply doesn’t matter what you enjoy, as long as you do it. Take the opportunity to do something that makes you happy and gives you something to look forward to.

Try getting this well-deserved time to yourself at least once a week. The weather is often a deterrent to following through on plans but don’t let that get in your way. Push yourself to have your ‘me time’ and don’t make excuses.

Avoid Overloading On Carbs

During the winter, you’re likely to turn to comfort foods filled with carbohydrates and that sit heavily in your stomach. Pastas and breads, mashed potatoes and pies, can tempt you to overload on carbs. While it isn’t necessary to cut out carbs completely from your diet, having too much can worsen your symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

Carbs can make you cathartic, directly affecting your mood with the spike—and inevitable drop—in your glucose level. Instead, eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in fruit, vegetables, protein and fiber. Get as much of the good stuff as you can and cut back on the carbs if you’re feeling sleepy and lazy a lot throughout the winter.

Take Medication If Needed

There are so many different symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, and the severity with which you experience these symptoms differs from person to person. In some cases, you may need to add medication as part of your treatment plan to effectively cope with the winter blues.

If you’re struggling with SAD and it’s affecting your daily activities or your relationships, your doctor may suggest an antidepressant to help you get through it. Talk to your doctor about the different options available. In some cases, vitamin supplements could also be recommended to go along with other medications and coping techniques.

RP, Registered Psychotherapist

Greg has a master's degree in counselling psychology and is a registered psychotherapist in Ontario where he's been practicing with individuals and couples for 15 years. He specializes in evidence-based treatments such as CBT and mindfulness, and produces a variety of online self-help content you can find on ( and twitter (@GregDorter).

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