Everyone has those cold and dark mornings where it feels like even an IV of espresso couldn't get you out of bed. But what if that mood doesn't lift? An estimated 10 million Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a mild depression that develops gradually as reduced exposure to sunlight disrupts the body's internal clock, throwing off the production of sleep-regulating melatonin and mood-boosting serotonin. If your energy wanes as the leaves start to fall, prepare yourself with these simple changes.
Invest in a Light Box
Research shows that these therapeutic devices can help reset your internal clock, increasing your energy levels throughout the day. Spend about one hour each morning facing a 10,000-plus lumen box. For convenience, try one that doubles as a dawn simulator alarm clock, such as Nature Bright Deluxe lamp ($180, available at cnslighting.com), which wakes you up by dousing you with light.
Move Your Body
In one study from Duke University Medical Center, depressed people who worked out for 30 minutes at 75 percent of their maximum heart rate several times a week for 16 weeks felt just as much relief as those who took an antidepressant. Try a daytime outdoor jog, where you grab a little extra light. Yoga more your style? Choose a routine that focuses on holding chest-opening poses like back bends; a study from UCLA suggests they boost confidence and reduce negative thinking.
Grab Healthy Comfort Foods
If you're craving sweets, skip apple pie and reach for a bowl of nuts and dark-chocolate chips instead. Magnesium-rich foods such as these may fight depression, according to a review published in the journal Medical Hypothesis, by supporting the function of serotonin and other mood-regulating hormones in the brain.
Look at how you are carrying your body. Are you vegging out on the couch watching TV? Slumping in front of your laptop? "Emotional states can be triggered by external cues," says Erik Peper, Ph.D., a holistic healing professor at San Francisco State University. "If you look down or sit in a collapsed position, it will cue your brain to focus on the negative."
Call Your Doctor
Left unchecked, SAD can develop into full-blown depression. Ask about talk or cognitive behavioral therapy. In studies, CBT has helped people challenge negative thought patterns and enact lifestyle changes to better cope with symptoms. When they made a plan to fight SAD, including seeing friends, exercising, and planning fun events, it eased symptoms and stopped hopeless feelings from taking over. Your doctor can help you decide whether to try supplements such as serotonin-boosting SAMe and St. John's wort. Can't find significant relief after a few weeks? It may be time to discuss prescription medication. A low, short-term dose of an antidepressant can alleviate symptoms and ward off a bout of serious depression.