According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 1 in 10 Americans suffers from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). According to our completely unscientific reckoning, the rest of us get totally bummed out in the winter too. How could we not? We wake up to darkness, we commute home in darkness, and it’s as cold as a witch’s you-know-what outside.
Fortunately, there are ways to beat the gloom, beyond buying a one-way ticket to Miami. We contacted a basket of experts -- including the man who first discovered SAD -- for advice on how to combat the winter funk. So rise and shine; it’s time to bring the sunshine back!
The SAD Specialist
The major cause of SAD is lack of light. So my advice to sufferers is simple: Get more light! You can do this by walking outdoors (especially in the morning), bringing more light into your home, or using special light fixtures. If you opt for light therapy fixtures, remember that bigger is often better, mornings are usually the best time to use the lights, and you needn’t stare at the light -- just sit in front of it with your eyes open. Light therapy usually works within four days or so. -- Dr. Normal Rosenthal, author of Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder
The Yoga Instructor
When posture improves, so does confidence. People who feel down have slumped shoulders, a collapsed chest and a tendency to look downward. This posture puts pressure on the heart and stops the diaphragm from moving freely. Yoga postures increase blood flow, which flushes the muscles, organs and glandular system of waste while delivering oxygen and nutrients. They also soften the muscles, allowing the energy lines of the body to open and restoring balance to your nervous system. -- Ducky Punch, founder of Yummy Yoga
Try St. John’s Wort, which serves as a tonic for the nervous system and balances mood. Ashwagandha helps you cope with stress and environmental changes, and astragalus restores energy and helps prevent lethargy. You can also try certain vitamin supplements. B6 will help with mood, as will vitamin E. Magnesium is good for anxiety, insomnia and winter aches. -- Dr. Kathia Roberts of the Seasonal Health Wellness Center
The Life Coach
Tell the truth. When the seasons change, be honest about what makes you happy and go after it. For example, when mornings get cold and dark, you might be inclined to hide from life under your blankets. But if what actually makes you happy is to get your blood flowing, then that’s what you must do. The no-snooze-button rule is a good one. -- Will Craig, director of educational programming at the Handel Group
The Personal Trainer
When we are physically fit, we manage stress better. The most effective way to get out of a rut this winter is to work out. Most any kind of exercise will help, from Pilates to cardio, just as long as you’re physically active. Like the quote says: “If it’s physical, it’s therapy!” I recommend a strength-training program since it naturally increases your body’s testosterone levels, which will increase your feelings of well-being and confidence. -- Kevin Kohout at Personal Trainer Los Angeles
Eating mini-meals throughout the day is a good idea. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids relieve symptoms of depression; you can find these in fatty, cold-water fish like salmon, or walnuts and flaxseed. If you can cut out caffeine, sugar and alcohol, do so! Alcohol and caffeine are both mood-altering and habit-forming substances, and too much sugar can lead to fatigue and mood swings, wiping out any benefit of serotonin. Finally, stay hydrated. Do not replace water, the liquid of life, with any other beverage. -- Carrie Wiatt of Diet Designs
The Happiness Expert
Go for a walk. In the winter, it’s easy to get in the habit of hurrying from one indoor space to the next, but it’s dreary to be inside all the time. You’ll get a jolt of energy and cheer -- and also boost your mental focus and productivity -- if you take a quick walk outside, where you can get the sun in your eyes and experience the weather. Even bad weather can be therapeutic! -- Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of The Happiness Project
The best way to combat depression is to be proactive about avoiding a spiraling mood. When you experience depressive thinking -- like “I give up” or “Why bother?” -- try to recognize these thoughts and adjust them. If the world seems hostile and painful, remind yourself that this might not be true; you just feel terrible today. And do what you don’t feel like doing: Start an exercise program or get involved with a group of people. Don’t let the negative thoughts win! -- Doric George at Visions of Freedom Therapy