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The Frosty Doldrums

Beating the Seasonal Sads

For many of us, winter months mean that we go to work in the dark and we come home in the dark. This drastic reduction in sunlight is one of the primary causes of seasonal depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, appropriately acronym’d SAD.

Idaho experiences one of the biggest fluctuations in levels of sunshine between summer and wintertime. Summer nights often last well beyond 10 PM and we are happily dosed with Vitamin D all day long. In addition to stimulating the production and release of serotonin (otherwise known as the brain’s “happy chemical”), Vitamin D helps protect the immune system, regulates proper insulin levels, and increases our overall energy.

With such a dramatic decrease in sunshine, how do we combat the seasonal SADs?

Take Vitamin D

This is really the low-hanging fruit here, but a highly effective tactic. Specialists recommend taking about 3,000 to 4,000 IU of vitamin D per day during the winter months. However, some people may need more than this. As with all supplements and vitamin regimes, it is best to consult with your physician beforehand.

Get a Happy Light

Light therapy is a relatively new treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder. It works by mimicking natural, outdoor light, which in turn can stimulate the release of the serotonin normally released by sunshine. Using the Happy Light for 15 – 30 minutes in the morning helps to reset and balance your circadian rhythm and improve overall sleep quality. According to a Harvard Health according by MD Michael Craig Miller, bright light (like in the Happy Light) works by “stimulating cells in the retina that connect to the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that helps control circadian rhythms.”


I know, I know, we are all constantly being told to exercise. BUT exercise really does help to improve our mood. While it is best to get a minimum of 120 minutes of physical activity a week, you don’t have to drastically change your schedule to incorporate exercise into your day. Yes, joining a gym and hitting the tanning beds a few times a month (don’t over-do with the tanning beds!) has also been shown to increase feelings of happiness during winter months, but even just a simple afternoon walk can reduce symptoms of seasonal depression. Walking increases blood flow and circulation, which generates a position response from the central nervous system. All forms of exercise (yes, even just simply walking) release endorphins, which are the brains natural happy drugs.

Treat ya self!

Another thing not to over-do, but spoil yourself a bit! Is there a certain fragrance of candle that brings you joy? Get one! Craving a mid-afternoon cookie? Have one! Take yourself on a date—wine and dine yourself with brunch and morning mimosas. Have a spa day. Give yourself a nice foot rub. Splurge on the fancy chocolate. But you don’t need to spend money to treat yourself. Spend some time listening to music, watching the clouds, and allowing yourself time for rest. You work hard, you deserve this. I promise.

Stay Limber, Stay Hydrated

A simple mantra to live by is “Stay Limber, Stay Hydrated.”

Take a few minutes out of your day to stretch. Reach for the ceiling, touch your toes (or try to!), lift those legs up, put your toes in the air, get silly with it. Wiggle, jiggle, and dance. Motion and movement are so good for the body and in turn, activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Plus, it fills your muscles up with blood, improving overall circulation. A properly circulated body is a happy body.

Aim to increase your water intake by at least one glass. A good rule of thumb is to take your weight, divide it in half, and drink that amount in ounces daily. Did you know that dehydration is one of the main causes of road rage? Let’s minimize that as much as possible this holiday season (and always).

Reach Out

Talk to friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors. Smile at strangers. Write letters to pen-pals. Make genuine conversation with the grocery clerk and the bank teller. We are social creatures. Don’t let winter keep you isolated.

Sending you love and strength this winter!