Sunday night, somewhere between a fit of crying, a fight with my husband, and the violent deboning of a roast chicken, it hit me – this wasn’t “sad”; this was S.A.D.

One would think regularity would ease self-diagnosis. Starting in middle school, winter blues have descended the week after daylight savings – like clockwork. Only this year they didn’t. The days grew shorter, but my mood stayed upbeat. It’s been a warm winter here on the East Coast. Warm enough to spend more time outside in the yard, riding my bike, monitoring recess. The extra exposure daylight seemed to have a moderating affect. And when I began, post-Christmas, to feel a bit raw inside, I had a thousand reasonable explanations – a bad cold, a serious family illness, an emotional situation with a student, grades due. But when happy songs, deep poetry, escape fiction, and hot chocolate weren’t helping, when introspection became a vicious cycle of self-doubt, when my moods had taxed my husband’s patience, I finally figured it out.

In past years, I have found a nearly perfect formula to keep the specter of winter at bay. It’s simple, it’s been recommended by my doctor and by reputable research studies, and it works quickly. I just wish I had implemented it a month ago . . .

1) Thirty minutes of exercise a day. Good for the body in general – vital in the winter. I spend 20 minutes on the Nordic Track when I wake up and try to take a quick brisk walk mid-day.

2) A daily muli-vitamin. Make sure it has those good B vitamins.

3) 30 – 60 minutes using a light lamp. My husband calls this my happy box. I place it on the Nordic track in the morning and use it while correcting papers at night. Sunday night, I retrieved it from the top of the closet and after three days, I can feel my body recalibrating. I love my happy box.

How do you keep the winter blues in check?


  1. What a timely post. I just had a conversation with my husband about S.A.D. yesterday. I noticed that I’ve been unmotivated, irritable, down in the dumps . . .which is typical for me in the winter. Now that the cold has finally come to the Northeast I’m feeling it more acutely. My doctor recommended getting the lights, but I haven’t made the investment. Perhaps it’s time. . .

  2. Amy: I didn’t get a lamp for years because of the cost (and they aren’t even that expensive). My husband got one for me four years ago, and I now I can’t believe I didn’t invest in it sooner. What surprises me most is now *fast* I react to this treatment. Buy, buy, buy. 🙂

  3. I don’t suffer from S.A.D., but I have serious PMS. My husband has the “at risk” days scheduled in his palm pilot. I sometimes joke that if I can plan for the day when my chemicals will drop, I’ll just go to a hotel until I’m back to my sweet self.
    Seriously, I’m been contemplating why it is that our bodies can affect our moods so drastically. The interconnection is utterly miraculous and completely terrifying.
    I am absolutely committed to exercise–daily for at least 40 minutes. I also listen to music–everything from Bach to Christian pop to Eric Clapton.

  4. I haven’t had this problem much in SoCal, but I do remember really suffering when I lived in SLC. I wish I’d known to do these simple things. Instead, I would curl up in a fetal position next to the washing machine and cry (why the washing machine? Because the sound of running water and the vibration of the spin cycles was very soothing to me).

  5. A warning: St. John’s Wort (an herbal remedy for mood problems) has a side effect of making your skin more sensitive to sun and light. So if you use a light box, don’t use St. John’s Wort.

  6. My sister found some success in dealing with S.A.D. by using a light alarm clock. Just the difference of waking to a lighted room instead of a dark room helped her immensely.

  7. Margaret/Old Singer:

    I hear you. WI’m struck by the battle between mind and body that sometimes ensues, with my mind insisting, rationalizing, reasoning away the sadness and my body insisting that it is, indeed, sad. And when I take care of my body (light, exercise, vitamins), my mind says “Oh yes, that’s the way you are supposed to be feeling — I told you so . . .”

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