How to kick SAD in the pants

Dec 11, 2014

Does the early sunset of winter make your heart sink? Do you get sad when it’s already pitch black outside at 5pm? Does winter just…really bum you out?

Me too. Actually, there are quite a lot of us out there -- about 20% of Americans, according to Psychology Today. The farther north you live and the less sunlight you get, the more susceptible you are to seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

**What is SAD? **

SAD is seasonal depression. It’s characterized by low energy, changes in sleep or appetite, and an overall “blah” feeling when winter comes round and the days get shorter. (SAD happens in summer, too, but in a smaller proportion of the population.)

How to make it better?

Light therapy

So, no one’s totally sure how SAD works — it’s only been in the last 30 years or so that SAD’s been recognized as a legitimate mental health issue. But one theory is that it has to do with the amount of light we get, which naturally diminishes in winter. (After all, bears hibernate, so why shouldn’t we?)

There are lightboxes you can pick up for anywhere from $40-$200, which emit light similar to natural daylight, at a super-bright lux. Plop yourself in front of one of these for about an hour each day, and it’s supposed to alleviate most effects. Don’t want to drop cash on a glorified lamp? Just pull the shades open!

Maybe not like that. Try to sit next to windows during the day, too — or even better, take a walk outside.


Exercise probably sounds like the last thing you want to do when you’re feeling sluggish and glum. But getting the ol’ heart racing and the sweat flowing is good for you! Exercise is one of the best ways to beat depression, and it’s especially great in the winter. The ritual of making time for physical activity — whether it’s yoga, weights, swimming, or taking a jaunt on the elliptical — gets you out of your funk and into the world.

Coziness — hygge!

I always look forward to the first snow of the year with childish excitement. The first real snow, not the sham “wintry mix” that’s code for ice and regret. A genuine, Starbucks-red-cup ode-to-joy tis-the-season snow — fat white flakes, piling up on cars and tree branches and roofs — reminds me that there are things to love about winter. Hot chocolate! Blankets! Fireplaces and wooly sweaters!

Turns out, there’s a name for that feeling: the cozy, warm, friendly snuggly cheerfulness that makes winter bearable. It’s hygge, and it’s why Danes are so darn happy, despite being so far north. It’s about more than just physical coziness. Yes, sweaters and blankets and fireplaces are all great, but they’re even better and cozier when there’s friends and family and loved ones to share them with.

That’s closer to the spirit of hygge — building intimacy and camaraderie in the darkest months of the year. So when you feel the winter blues weighing on you, why not call up a friend? Even a phone call can carry the spirit of hygge… and a warm heart is even better than a warm blanket.

**Got any tips for beating SAD? Let us know in the comments! **

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Larissa Pham is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She loves dramatically pulling her shades open first thing in the morning and basking in the sun like a cat.