Winter is quickly approaching. It's going to get cold, gray, and snowy in Iowa sooner rather than later.

For many of us, the colder months of the year are the hardest. We, as people, love (and need) the sun, exercise, fresh air, social interaction, and warmth. Seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD -- coincidence? I think not) is incredibly common -- roughly 4 to 6 percent of people in the United States have SAD, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. And as many as 20 percent may have a mild form of it.

According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD can be defined as "a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year."

Many professionals believe it is directly linked with lack of sunlight, but the reasons above are a list of things that coincide with the missing warmth and light.

No matter the cause, the following list may help you determine if you have SAD. These bullet points are also from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having low energy
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

If you're feeling down as the temperatures start to drop and the sun is out less and less, we may have just what you need.

1. Exercise

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Sam Moqadam

Getting up on your feet and making the blood pump can release happy chemicals in your brain. Per Harvard Health Publishing, "High-intensity exercise releases the body's feel-good chemicals called endorphins, resulting in the 'runner's high' that joggers report."

"Exercising starts a biological cascade of events that results in many health benefits, such as protecting against heart disease and diabetes, improving sleep, and lowering blood pressure," the website adds.

2. Light Therapy

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Light or phototherapy boxes emit artificial light that is designed to be similar to sunshine and may help with the management of SAD, according to the Mayo Clinic. The light coming from the box is substantially brighter than a typical lightbulb.

One would sit in front of a light box for 20-30 minutes each day. The proceeding chemical change within the brain boosts mood and reduces symptoms of SAD, the Mayo Clinic says.

 

3. Supplements Can't Hurt

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According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), individuals with decreased levels of vitamin D may be at risk of SAD symptoms. Experts are unsure of the effects of vitamin D in terms of minimizing SAD, but getting enough sunlight and adding vitamin D to your diet is certainly beneficial.

Here are 7 Healthy Foods High in Vitamin D.

4. Psychotherapy

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Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or 'talk therapy' can work for those with SAD. According to the American Psychological Association, CBT "has been demonstrated to be effective for a range of problems including depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug use problems, marital problems, eating disorders, and severe mental illness."

The Mayo Clinic had this to say about what CBT can do for you:

  • Identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse
  • Learn healthy ways to cope with SAD, especially with reducing avoidance behavior and scheduling activities
  • Learn how to manage stress

5. Meditation

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No, not sitting on your living room floor with your eyes closed, hands in the air, legs crossed and saying 'ome' over and over. I mean, not for most people. You do you, boo.

The Harvard Health Publishing site had this to say about the effects of meditation: "Stress and anxiety are major triggers of depression, and meditation can alter your reaction to those feelings. 'Meditation trains the brain to achieve sustained focus, and to return to that focus when negative thinking, emotions, and physical sensations intrude — which happens a lot when you feel stressed and anxious,' says Dr. John W. Denninger, director of research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital."

If you want to learn how to meditate, mindful.org has excellent resources.

Or you can watch this video:

6. Journal, journal, journal

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Journaling can be approached in a couple different ways.

The first involves simply getting one's rampant thoughts out of their head. The sad, angry, or stressed out thoughts can almost melt away once they are put on paper or typed out on a document.

The latter involves writing down what your triggers were in order that they can be easily identified and avoided. According to Forbes.com, this process can be referred to as encoding within our brains: "Encoding is the biological process by which the things we perceive travel to our brain’s hippocampus where they’re analyzed. From there, decisions are made about what gets stored in our long-term memory and, in turn, what gets discarded. Writing improves that encoding process." Thus, you're more prepared for when the specified situations appear or when they can be steered clear of.

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