In case you haven’t noticed, winter is in full force here in middle Tennessee (yes, that thermometer does have a single digit on it—brrr!). The chilly air and shorter days can really throw our bodies and minds for a loop. Some people experience lower energy levels, changes in appetite, and even depression. But these problems are more than just passing “winter blues.” In fact, there’s a clinical name for this group of symptoms: seasonal affective disorder.


What is seasonal affective disorder?


According to the Mayo Clinic, seasonal affective disorder (or SAD, for short) is “a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons,” and it usually rears its head around the same time each year in an individual’s life.


For many, now is the time when symptoms of SAD begin to appear. Less sunlight during the day can disrupt our body’s wake and sleep cycles, which leads to varying levels of serotonin and melatonin (two chemicals in the brain that help regulate our mood and sleep). The excitement we had in December leading up to the holiday season is now over, and we’re experiencing cloudy, cold days. Add all of these factors together, and January’s full dose of wintry conditions will soon take a toll on us. So, how can you get ahead of SAD and be proactive? It starts with knowing what to look for.


How do I know if I’m affected by SAD?


Most people who experience SAD feel generally sluggish, tired, or unmotivated. If you’re just not feeling like yourself lately, check out a few more of the common symptoms from the Mayo Clinic’s list:


  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Having difficulty concentrating


If you find yourself experiencing these symptoms (find the full list here) for days or weeks on end, it’s time to take action and get back to feeling good again.


How can I be proactive about dealing with SAD?


Fortunately, pulling yourself out of the slump can be relatively easy with a few small changes and tangible actions. Here are a few of my favorite ways to combat SAD before it even begins.


  • Use a light therapy lamp.
    • A what?! Yes, that’s right—specific lamps exist for this exact purpose. A light therapy lamp simulates being out in the sunshine, and is especially impactful during those weeks when it seems the sun has disappeared behind the gray haze of clouds that cover the sky. Personally, I was doubtful this remedy would work. But after I finally followed my doctor’s recommendation and purchased one, I can honestly say that it’s helped my mood. Do a bit of research on light therapy, and find a space-saving option for purchasing one on Amazon.


  • Make it a point to spend time with loved ones.
    • Symptoms like those of SAD tend to make us want to recluse, but fight that urge! Make a lunch date with a friend you enjoy spending time with, or make a deliberate effort to spend time in conversation with loved ones in your home instead of watching TV together in the evenings. Good company can lift your spirits


    • Colder weather usually forces us inside, but that doesn’t mean you can’t move your body! Find an indoor workout class or gym you enjoy (many are offering some great deals for the start of the New Year!), and get active at least 1-2 times a week.


  • Keep a journal or use a mood tracking app.
    • If journaling is something you enjoy or already do, use your writing time to let all of your thoughts and feelings out on the page. Over time, you may start to see some patterns, such as feeling happy until 11 AM, and then suddenly feeling upset or unmotivated. If journaling isn’t your strength, try a mood tracking app like iMoodJourna Keeping a record of these thoughts and feelings as they happen will help you to see when something is occurring day after day, and then you can take the necessary steps to find the help you need.


How do I know when I need more help?


On the extreme end of the spectrum of symptoms, prolonged depression and suicidal thoughts can stem from seasonal affective disorder. If you find yourself caught in either of these, don’t hesitate to seek help from a doctor or professional counselor. They can recommend medical options to help, or talk through some of the feelings you’re experiencing during this winter season and beyond.


With a bit of mindfulness and some practical ways to prevent SAD from affecting you this winter, it’s possible to be your best self and live with happiness—even when the weather seems to dictate otherwise.