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SAD: 6 Tips to beat the winter woes

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Banish The Winter Blues

Even though spring is right around the corner, the remaining winter cold and darkness can put you in a funk. If you are suffering from the winter blues, these six tips can brighten your mood.

What is SAD?

SADSeasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a winter malady that causes depression, lethargy, and lack of motivation. It effects up to six percent of the United States population, particularly women in their twenties, thirties, and forties. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that SAD can also occur in men and children and that many SAD sufferers have at least one close relative with severe depressive disorder.

What are the symptoms of SAD?

According to the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association, the key symptoms of SAD include extreme fatigue, sleep problems, depression, anxiety, irritability, carbohydrate cravings, increased appetite, weight gain and loss of libido. Sufferers are also more vulnerable to winter illnesses because their immune system can become weakened. Due to its symptomology, SAD can be misdiagnosed as hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, infectious mononucleosis, and other viral infections.

Many people experience the "winter blues" as a result of cold, gray days but people with SAD experience a much more intense form of the blues. Dr. Cheryl Perlis, a Chicago health and wellness expert, warns that the long, dreary winters can take their toll on even the most seasoned cold-weather native. She says, "I regularly treat patients whose mood, motivation, and total outlook has shifted as a result of the winter blues or seasonal depression."

But there are things you can do to keep your energy and spirits high. The following six tips can be incorporated during the winter as well as throughout the year to keep you healthy and improve the quality of your life.

Six Tips To Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)


1. Light up your day. Even if it is gray and cloudy, the effects of daylight are beneficial. In addition to daylight, daily light therapy has been shown to be effective in 85 percent of diagnosed SAD cases. Daily light therapy involves one to four hours of exposure to lighting that is 10 times the intensity of regular domestic lighting. For home or office use, check out the Day-Light by Uplift Technologies.

2. Balanced nutrition. A well-balanced nutritious diet will give you more energy and possibly quell your carb cravings. Comfort food tastes good and it may make you feel better for the short-term, but a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains will healthfully keep your weight in check and make you feel better in the long-run. The American Dietetic Association can provide you with more information on healthy eating.

3. Get your supplements. Getting your recommended daily amounts of vitamins and minerals can help alleviate some of the SAD symptoms and improve your energy, particularly if you are deficient in key nutrients. There is a variety of seasonal supplements available but check with your physician or naturopath before taking mega-doses or herbal formulations. A multi-vitamin and mineral supplement may be all you need.

4. Move your body. Regardless of the time of year, regular exercise is essential for overall health. Even if the weather has you relegated to the indoors, you can still head to your local gym or do exercise videos in the comfort of your home. Getting your body moving will help you battle winter weight gain, boost your endorphins, and may even help you sleep more soundly. If you do prefer working out at home, visit Active Videos for a sweat-worthy array of fitness videos and DVDs.

5. Prioritize social activities. Stay connected to your social network. Getting out of the house and doing enjoyable things with friends and family can do wonders to cheer you up. Go to a movie or make a dinner date. Get the most bang for your efforts and, if weather permitting, get outdoors for a group ski or hike — you can get your exercise, social fix and daylight needs met in one shot.

6. Get help. If you have exhausted your attempts at natural remedies and the symptoms of SAD are still interfering with your daily functioning, seek professional help. Antidepressants and certain types of psychotherapy have proven effective in treating SAD and helping people cope with seasonal mood changes. Check your local listings for a mental health professional or visit Psychology Today to find a therapist or counselor.

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