This time of year, seasonal depression can take a toll on those of us living in the northern latitudes.

Recent studies suggest the culprit is a brain circuit that connects cells in the eye with areas of the brain that affect mood. When these cells detect shorter days, people can feel slow, unmotivated and even depressed.

If the dark days get you down, a few things can help get you through:

Maintain a regular schedule

While it can feel great to sleep in late when it’s gray out, even just one day with a different schedule can throw you off and make sleep problems — and seasonal mood changes — more of an issue. Try to keep your morning wake-up time the same no matter what and go to bed earlier instead. Let yourself hibernate a little at the end of a long day so you can wake up refreshed.

Get your heart rate up

Getting some cardio is always good for your health, but getting your blood pumping and your heart rate going in winter is a great way to boost energy and increase motivation when both are at their lowest. Try meeting up with a friend or coworker during your lunch break. Since days are shorter and most of us get home after sunset, it’s a great time to make a habit of a mid-day walk and get the benefit of some daylight, too.

Visit the sun

If you can find the time and funds to get away, taking a mid-winter break to a sunnier location can be a big help. A day on the eastern side of the state or sledding at the pass can be a good option, too — anywhere the skies are clearer. If that can’t happen, watch the forecast for those rare clear days or sun breaks in the schedule and get ready to dash outside on a stay-cation day.

Try a light box or dawn simulator

Lighttherapy is thought to help lessen the impact of lower sunlight and its link to mood and sleep, easing seasonal symptoms. Using a light therapy box may also help with other types of depression, sleep disorders and other conditions.

Talk to your doctor

If you feel sad, disconnected, irritable or fatigued and it seems to be happening at the same time as last year, bring it up with your doctor. They may end up suggesting a few of the things on this list, and can help you monitor your symptoms to help determine the next course of action.

Get enough Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium, which is necessary for the development and maintenance of healthy bones, among other vital functions. You only need a 15 or 20 minutes in the sun in the summer months for our bodies to manufacture it, but in winter the sun isn’t high enough. Talk to your doctor about taking a supplement to be sure you are getting enough.

Consider medication

Your mental health is important to your overall well-being. Antidepressant medications have come a long way, and many people experience great relief from them not long after starting. Having an open conversation with your doctor can help determine if your seasonal depression could benefit from medication.

For more support

The phone-based Health Coaching program is here to support and encourage you as you set and meet goals to improve your health and well-being.

Your coach can help you:

  • Get more exercise
  • Improve your nutrition
  • Reduce your stress

Call (877) 362-9969 to find out more and sign up. Actively participating in the Health Coaching program also counts toward annual HRA funding.


Sources: National Institutes of Health, Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, American Academy of Family Physicians