Why Does Winter Make Me Feel So SAD?

Even the holly jolliest of us can get a little overwhelmed during the holiday season. If you slip into Grinch mode before Thanksgiving and stay there until after Valentine's Day, though, you might actually be feeling SAD.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is also known as seasonal depression or just the winter blues. When SAD hits, you may feel agitated, hopeless, guilty, withdrawn, or any of the other common symptoms of depression. Or you may just want to curl up and sleep until springtime – which is fine if you're a bear, a bat, or a bee, but isn't really an option for us humans!

Some of us start feeling SAD as soon as they turn back their clocks in the fall. Others feel it creeping up as the nights get longer and the days end earlier. We still haven't figured out exactly what causes it, but researchers believe it's related to the way decreased sunlight shifts our body's internal clock. That affects brain activity and the production of hormones that affect mood and sleep patterns. Getting less sun also means getting less vitamin D, which is linked to depression. That's why standard treatments for SAD include medication, therapy, vitamin D supplements, and…turning on a light. No, really!

Years of research have shown that the right kind of light for the right amount of time at the right time of day can convince your brain that it's not actually the middle of winter. You can wake up gradually at "dawn" with a lamp that simulates the sunrise. You can spend 30 to 60 minutes right after you wake up sitting in front of a lightbox (you might have heard them called "happy lamps") or even wearing a bright light visor like a hat. There's also some research suggesting that natural spectrum light bulbs and blue light can help adjust your circadian rhythm.

It's worth giving them all a try to see which one does the best job of lifting your winter blues. To brighten things up even more, try listening to one of our guided imagery audios for depression while you soak up the fake sun.

Prioritizing your physical and mental health this holiday season? Check out our Holiday Guide, specifically curated to help you have a happier and healthier start to the new year.