Every year, I get mopey during the winter as I spend more time inside and the days get shorter. Some years, it's more than the mopes, and I get full-blown seasonal depression. I'm far from alone in this: despite the obnoxious acronym "SAD," Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing. And it's common, too, affecting four to six percent of the population in a major way, and 10 to 20 percent of the population more moderately. Young women are particularly vulnerable to it.
When you have SAD, the symptoms are essentially the same as any other kind of depression. You withdraw socially, your appetite and sleep patterns change, and you feel hopeless most of the time. Winter depression may be additionally accompanied by craving carbs, a constant feeling of tiredness, and a leaden feeling in your joints. The reason for this has to do with changes in your body as it gets less sunlight — for instance, a drop in serotonin levels (which keep you happy) and melatonin levels (which regulate sleep). But it can also be worsened by more simple, psychological responses — getting outside less in the winter can make you feel stir-crazy and socially isolated, for instance, and having less sunlight can make you feel less productive and worthwhile (e.g. "it's dark at 5 p.m. and all I've done today is my job!" type feelings).
Whether or not you suffer from SAD, many people can psychologically benefit from keeping that summer feeling of the sun not setting until 9 p.m. going. Here are some ways you can feel like the days aren't getting shorter (even though they totally are):
1. Get a phototherapy lamp
You might try using it as a desk lamp while you work all day, or you might just use it for 15 minutes. Try different things until you've found a schedule that works for you.
2. Exercise outdoors
Exercise and being outdoors both make you feel better when you have depression. Why not do both at the same time? Try bundling up, and going for a walk or run first thing in the morning to beat off that sleepy winter feeling. Won't your chilly little nose feel great when you take a hot shower afterwards?
3. Maximize your home's sunlight
Fill your home with mirrors to double the light you get from windows, and trim the branches of trees that may be blocking your light.
4. Try getting up earlier
...and going to bed earlier. Your internal clock might struggle with this a bit, particularly if you have that sleepy SAD feeling that makes you want to stay in bed all day, but it's the only way you can maximize your sunlight during daylight savings. A tip from my boyfriend's sleep doctor was to try to wake up and go in front of your SAD lamp or outside for a walk immediately. I've found that this definitely makes me feel less groggy.
5. Make your non-natural sources of light beautiful
Consider good-looking phototherapy lamps, lovely Edison bulbs, Hue lightbulbs that change color, Christmas lights, warm scented candles — use anything for alternate light that isn't a standard, ugly fluorescent bulb.
6. Go to a sauna
If it's good enough for winter survival in countries that get dark at 3 p.m., it's good enough for you. Saunas don't provide the light of the sun, of course, but they'll make you feel nice and warm like a balmy summer day.
7. Travel south
In the northern hemisphere's winter, the days get longer the further south you go. A perfect excuse for a trip to Mexico.
8. Try to get out of work in time to see the sunset
Because there's nothing more depressing than ending your work day in pitch black night. Looking at the sunset can be a calming way to transition from work time to fun time.
9. Take supplements
You're missing out on vitamin D with less sunlight, after all, and anecdotally high doses (about 10,000 IU) safely work as a tool to manage SAD for many people. I also find that taking a B-complex supplement helps to keep my energy up.
10. Use bright colors
Use a colorful mug when you're drinking hot coffee at your desk, lime green gloves for waiting for the bus, or a cheery red blanket for your bed. Bright colors will make your entire world seem lighter.