For a lot of us, winter actually looks more like leaving work after the sun has already set.
It looks like canceling plans because it’s easier to stay in bed, and trying to remember a time when the sky was any color but gray.
In fact, almost everyone I know gets the “winter blues” to some degree — feeling exhausted, sad, and checked out during the winter months. But for some people, those feelings can manifest into something even more extreme: an illness called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “seasonal affective disorder is a subtype of major depression that comes and goes based on the seasons.” For most people who have experienced this mood disorder, SAD starts in the fall and begins to let up in early spring.
Medical professionals think that reduced exposure to sunlight (basically, no vitamin D) is a major factor behind seasonal depression. When the sun is only out for a couple hours a day, your body and brain regulate emotions differently.
The good news is that some of the best ways to deal with the winter blues include tiny lifestyle changes that don’t involve a prescription pad at all.
Here are four ways to kick SAD’s ass and reclaim your winter.
I started using this sun lamp for 30 to 45 minutes a day during my senior year in college, and it changed everything. The lamp blasts VERY bright light at your face until your body is convinced that it’s not hibernating through the winter. It can be a little hard to adjust to the habit, but it has been proven to work fast.
2. Sweat out the SAD.
Regular exercise is a cornerstone of physical health, but it can also make a huge difference with mental health, too. Getting physical encourages your brain to release all those good chemicals that elevate your mood.
3. Think positive.
This tip may sound annoying (“just be happier!!!”), but hear me out. In northern Norway, where some towns don’t see the sun for months, seasonal depression is very rare — partly because Norwegians have different expectations for winter.
Instead of getting down in the dumps, they mindfully focus on the color, the coziness, and the beauty of those dark, cold months. So when winter’s got you down, take a page out of their book: light candles, cook stews, drink hot chocolate, and get out your warmest blankets. A small shift in perspective could lead to huge results.
4. Make sure you have enough vitamin D.
According to Psychology Today, tons of studies have shown a link between vitamin D deficiency and depression. A vitamin D supplement could help your body deal with winter’s emotional lows.
These tips probably won’t “cure” your seasonal sadness — only the Earth’s slow rotation around the sun can do that.
But remember, you’re not alone. Lots of us experience the winter blues, and it does get better.
Plus, Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow this year on Groundhog’s Day, so spring might be coming sooner than usual in 2016. Until then, I wish you luck (and piles of blankets, mugs of cocoa, and good friends to keep you company).