If you live in a cold climate, you know that cabin fever can drag you down throughout the winter months, especially in states still experiencing lockdown policies due to the pandemic. For most, this may manifest as lowered mood, or just a travel bug urging you to hop on a flight to anywhere warm. But for others, it manifests as something bigger. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) refers to depression that occurs at the same time every year: namely, the cold and dark winter months. In this article, we’ll cover why this happens as well as a few tips to beat the winter blues this season.

Why does seasonal affective disorder occur?

  1. Circadian rhythm shifts

Shorter days, longer nights and weaker sun are partly to blame for the onset of SAD. This can throw off your natural circadian rhythm, also known as your biological clock. Disruptions in your circadian rhythm can lead to feelings of depression in some individuals.

  1. Reduced serotonin levels

The lack of sunlight in winter months translates to a drop in serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a natural “feel-good” neurotransmitter, meaning it plays a role in our mood, happiness and overall mental health.

  1. Reduced melatonin production

Melatonin plays a big role in our body’s sleep quality and overall mood. Similar to serotonin, melatonin can drop with lowered sunlight during the winter months. This can disrupt sleep and mood, and mood can decrease even further as a result of disrupted sleep.

What can I do?

  1. Take a Vitamin D supplement. In the months we spend less time outdoors, our levels of Vitamin D naturally fall. Taking a supplemental dose can help with mood. 
  1. Try daily meditation. Download Calm or Headspace and start with a free trial, or search “guided meditation” on YouTube for tons of free videos.
  1. See your doctor for medication options or light therapy.
  1. Exercise more. The endorphins will help your body combat feelings of depression.
  1. Change your environment by adding brighter lights, more natural light, indoor plants, and open spaces.
  1. Set social goals. It can be easy to isolate yourself when you feel depressed as a result of SAD, but being social can alleviate that. Call a loved one each night, or make plans for a virtual coffee with an old friend. It may be the last thing you want to do at the moment, but will help in the long run.
  1. Plan a trip. Although Covid-19 has ruined many travel plans, travel can still be done safely if planned correctly. Or better yet, plan a trip for 2022 when you know it will be safer. Either way, the act of planning and looking forward to a trip, warmth and a change to mundane daily routines can help you feel more energized and happy. 
  1. Smile! The simplest and most cliche tip of all might just help you out. Smiling tricks your brain, so give it a try.