The Ultimate Guide to Beating SAD

The Ultimate Guide to Beating SAD

Julia Brenner
Jan 15, 2016

I know that I definitely struggle to keep my more melancholic nature in check this time of year. The short gray days of winter can really do a number on our mood and overall sense of wellbeing. Then I feel bad for feeling bad, which in turn leads to an inner dialogue of, "Buck up! Put the blanket down! Why are you moping around again?!" Turns out there are much better ways of combatting SAD than yelling at yourself—like, for instance, all of the ideas listed here...

Over the years, we've collected a long list of helpful ideas for dealing with mild cases of SAD, which The National Institute of Mental Health describes as:

Some people experience a serious mood change during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight... Not everyone with SAD has the same symptoms. They include:

  • Sad, anxious or "empty" feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Changes in weight
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If you're feeling the effects of SAD, we hope that some aspects of the following list, compiled from our past articles and your comments, will prove helpful.

  1. Light Therapy. According to the Mayo Clinic, serotonin, melatonin, and circadian rhythm can all be impacted by reduced exposure to sunlight. If you're not able to spend regular time outdoors during daylight hours, there are quite a few well-reviewed light therapy boxes on Amazon that may prove helpful. Please include any personal experience with light therapy boxes (pros/cons) in the comments below.
  2. Exercise. Man oh man, the time of year when we really need to exercise (because we know it releases endorphins, gives us more energy, and generally makes us feel better) is also the time of year when it's really tricky to stay motivated (because giant sweaters are wonderful and so are blankets and Netflix and God bless this whole fashion jogging pant trend). Alas, exercise is something we need to keep doing; many of you have commented that things like signing up for specific classes, going to the gym with a friend, and finding exercises you actually enjoy are ways to stay motivated when the going gets tough and fashion joggers have elastic.
  3. Meditation/Yoga. This comes from your comments, so thank you! A reader commented that yoga practice can provide a less frenetic alternative to traditional cardio exercise, which can feel particularly challenging if you're experiencing symptoms of SAD. Regular meditation practice can also have profound psychological and physiological benefits, according to Psychology Today and Mayo Clinic, respectively. I can attest to the benefits of meditation in terms of helping to quiet anxiety and improve concentration... when I stick with it.
  4. Vitamin & Nutrition Strategies. Increased vitamin D is recommended for those with SAD. Holistic expert Dr. Andrew Weil (who doesn't love Dr. Weil?) has a more comprehensive strategy that includes B vitamins, herbal supplements, and nutrition recommendations.
  5. Get Out! Much like the exercise situation, it can be so easy to not do anything this time of year (the wonderful couch and blankets and takeout and the damn siren song of Netflix again), but meeting friends for coffee or drinks, going to see a matinee at a movie theater, experiencing live music at a club, taking your laptop to a coffee shop to work—these efforts to get out and do things can make you feel better. I think it has something to do with putting on pants? Even if they're, er, of the jogging pant variety.
  6. Talk And Have A Laugh. This is another tip from your comments, and I 100% agree. Make efforts to spend time with those folks you know are the good listeners, the great storytellers, and the funny ones. They always make us feel better.
  7. Music. The power of music to relax, uplift, and provide an emotional release is real, according to American Psychological Association. Sometimes music is the only language that resonates. And if you play an instrument, you know that playing music can serve as an incredible outlet.
  8. Cleaning/De-Cluttering. There is a reason why we do The Cure in January, and it aligns with previous comments from you all stating that using post-holiday time cooped up indoors to clean, clear out, and organize made you feel a lot better about your living situation and just better overall. It's never too late to join The Cure, but if that's too much right now, taking on one room, closet, or cluttered shelf can feel great as well.
  9. Do Something New/Scary. Ok, this is my personal tip and I feel a little embarrassed because it sounds just shy of Dance Like No One's Watching in the cheesy department, but Doing Something That Scares You can really lift your spirits. I know, cool the TED talk, Jules, but Eleanor Roosevelt actually said this, so it's solid. Here's my story: a few years ago, I was in the midst of the winter blues, so on a somewhat-desperate whim to not feel down, I signed up for a class that my friend was taking; I was incredibly ambivalent about taking this class. It was a weekly commitment, I was busy, I already had a lot on my plate (the usual narrative we tell ourselves to get out of things), but I was actually scared. Well, that one class turned into more classes and has led to cool opportunities I never foresaw, and, more importantly, it got me out of my comfortable routine and sparked parts of me that needed a little more fire. This quiet, more solitary time of year can be a great time to take a class that freaks you out, work on your resume because you really want a new job, plan that solo adventure, do that open mic night, research graduate programs, or do whatever it is you're scared to do. Go on and freak yourself out. Oprah, Eleanor Roosevelt, Deepak Chopra, and I all agree: it'll be a good thing.
  10. Medication. Some of you noted in the comments on previous articles relating to SAD that Wellbutrin is effective (I've also found this to be the case), but there are a number of medications available through healthcare professionals to treat moderate to severe cases of SAD.

BONUS: I have the existential adventures of Garfield Minus Garfield bookmarked for my own emotional pick-me-up (I don't quite know what that says about me), but if you're having one of those days when you don't want to take the blankets off, this is for you—and by you, I mean us:

(Image credit: Jim Davis via Dan Walsh)
(Image credit: Jim Davis via Dan Walsh)
(Image credit: Jim Davis via Dan Walsh)
(Image credit: Jim Davis via Dan Walsh)

Helps me every time.

Editors Note: While we hope this collection of info helps, SAD is serious. If you are experiencing symptoms, please consult a professional.

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