How You Can Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) This Winter

As we move into the winter months, we experience a loss of daylight hours and more time spent indoors where we are less active and more isolated.

This shift can give rise to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or the “winter blues” in many people. Common symptoms of SAD include depression, social withdrawal, fatigue, feelings of hopelessness, a weakened immune system, and changes in appetite. The season change accompanied by the stressors surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic could potentially cause this winter to be more difficult for those affected by SAD. So what are some ways you can combat the “winter blues”? Below are a few ways to reduce the effects of seasonal depression.

Light Therapy

Light therapy, also known as “phototherapy”, involves exposure to artificial light meant to mimic natural daylight. Light therapy is a safe treatment, with few side effects, that involves one sitting in front of a device called a light therapy box (or light box) in order to be exposed to its light. Typically, a session would be around 10 to 30 minutes a day and is often done within a short time after waking up in the morning. Light therapy works by reducing the effects to your circadian rhythm that occur due to lessened daylight and by helping regulation of melatonin production and serotonin levels that contribute to depression and that groggy, sleepy feeling during the winter.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy has many benefits that can alleviate those “winter blues”. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) has noted that massage can be an effective tool for combating SAD because of its ability to counteract the physiological mood factors that accompany it . Massage is known to reduce depression and anxiety, decrease blood pressure and heart rate, boost your immune and circulatory systems, help to regulate sleep, and improve your mood. There are many forms of massage that can provide benefits to your health and well-being in the fall and winter, or even year-round. From hot stone massage to deep tissue massage, or Reiki therapy – these forms of self-care have benefits that can make this time of year less difficult for those affected by SAD.

Healthy Diet

A healthy diet can do a lot to help one feel better during the winter months. Some of the side effects of SAD include overeating and craving carbohydrates, which can lead to increased lethargy. A balanced, healthy winter diet that makes considerations for the lessening of certain vitamins due to reduced sunlight exposure and overall changes to eating habits is key. Many recommend including these foods and nutrients in your diet:

  • Lean proteins for amino acids and omega-3’s that improve mood and energy levels
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, often found in salmon and some nuts
  • Limited sugar intake to improve your brain function and mood while increasing fatigue
  • Folic acid in foods such as leafy greens, lentils, soybeans, oranges, and oatmeal – which are said to help in the production in serotonin
  • Foods with vitamin B-12, such as yogurt, milk, cottage cheese, eggs, and lean beef – low levels of B-12 have been associated with depression
  • Vitamin D, often called the “sunshine vitamin”, is found in milk, egg yolks, and mushrooms or can be taken as supplements


Exercise is a well-known strategy to improve both physical and mental health. Studies show that exercise helps relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. Exercising works to reduce these symptoms by causing our body to release endorphins that activate positive feelings while helping balance levels of stress hormones, like adrenaline. Getting your body moving also stimulates the release of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine – which regulate mood, sleep cycles, and appetite. If possible, try to get active for around 30 to 60 minutes a day to give yourself the most benefit out of your exercise. Exercises you can do from home (and while sheltering in place) can include things like yoga, jogging, walking, or calisthenics or “bodyweight exercises”.

While these tactics can help alleviate seasonal depression, if you have any questions about addressing your SAD you should always consult with your doctor. If you’re considering massage therapy to alleviate SAD this winter, visit Adore Essence in Gurnee, IL. Adore Essence offers a variety of massage and spa services that are a blend of therapeutic touch and relaxing bodywork customized for each client.

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