I was writing about the book Weekends at Bellevue yesterday and I started to add some information about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but it didn’t really fit into that post. So, I am going to use the notes I had made here, because I think it’s important at this time of year.

SAD is also known as winter depression or winter blues, and it is a mood disorder in which people who have “normal” mental health throughout most of the year, seem to experience depressive symptoms in the winter. (There are actually a smaller number of people who seem to experience it in the summer, spring or autumn.)

Do you experience any serious mood changes when the seasons change?

Maybe you start to sleep too much. Your energy level drops. You crave “comfort foods” and sweet and starchy foods. You feel depressed.

Sure, everyone gets these symptoms, but they usually go away quickly on their own. SAD is when it lasts for weeks, months or throughout the season.

I am not a therapist, but I’ve been through therapy. So, these are some suggestions I have if you feel some winter blues that I hope might help.

Light therapy with sunlight or bright lights is a standard one. The special lights can be expensive. I recommend getting out into real sunlight. Add to that getting into the natural world – a park, a wooded area, a forest – and you increase the power of the sunlight.

Certainly, if you live in a cold climate now, it would be nice to get to a sunny beach – but that’s not practical.

Let me put in a good connected word for Vitamin D.  It’s a good vitamin for preventing osteoporosis, depression, prostate cancer, breast cancer. It even affects diabetes and obesity. It is such an underrated nutrient – probably because it’s free.

Don’t rush out to the store to buy a vitamin D supplement. Your body makes it when sunlight touches your skin. Since no one can make money selling you sunlight, it doesn’t get much promotion.

Vitamin D is produced by your skin when exposed to ultraviolet radiation from natural sunlight. Those rays cannot penetrate glass, sitting on the couch or in a car is not gong to help. I read that it is nearly impossible to get adequate amounts of vitamin D from your diet. Sunlight exposure is the only reliable way to generate vitamin D in your own body.

Another “official” treatment is ionized-air administration. An air ionizer (or negative ion generator) is a device that uses a high voltage charge to ionize air molecules. Negative ions, or anions, are particles with one or more extra electrons, conferring a net negative charge to the particle. Ions are de-ionized by seeking earthed conductors, such as walls and ceilings. These negative ions are positive for your mental health.

Do you know where you can surround yourself with these negative ions? Around water. Water generates negative ions. Breaking the surface tension of water, by waves, waterfalls, water over rocks in a stream or evaporation releases negative hydrogen ions into the atmosphere. These negative ions can stick to different free radicals and so are very beneficial for our health. (more on that in a future post) Get thee to some water!

Some studies have shown that carefully timed supplements of the hormone melatonin can help people with SAD.

What’s the takeaway from this post? Get out of the house – especially in winter when the season and cold tells you to stay in.  Get sunlight. Get into nature. Find a place with moving falling water. Bring a friend or loved one. Walk and look at what is around you. Breathe deeply. Take a hike. Feel the cold that tells you are alive.

The worst way to treat those depressive bouts is to do what the depression tells you to do – stay home, avoid people, eat junk, drink alcohol, take drugs, smoke and sleep excessively.  You have to force yourself to do the opposite, and if you do, it will get easier to stay on that path. If you know someone going through SAD, try to get them on the right path.