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Every year, a staggering amount of productive time is lost to the waning light and colder temperatures of winter. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can range from mild to severe, but no matter how you’re affected, it makes being productive a lot harder.

The prevalence of seasonal depression is anywhere from 0–10 percent of the population, depending on the geographic region.

This is a statistical fact for the United States alone, but the “winter blues” is a global phenomenon around the world when seasons change. If you’re struggling through the winter, try some of these tips to keep moving forward.

Note: If your seasonal affective disorder is severe and you feel depressed throughout the winter, please consult a mental health professional or see your doctor. Debilitating SAD can be greatly alleviated with medications and certain therapies.

Get Some Light

One of the reasons it’s difficult to function in the winter is that your circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock) gets messed up by the lack of light. Light therapy can help ameliorate this problem.

Sunlight in the Winter
Image Credit: Taina Sohlman via Shutterstock

Investing in a full-spectrum lamp 5 Light Therapy Lamps to Beat Winter Depression 5 Light Therapy Lamps to Beat Winter Depression If your depression only sets in during the winter months, then it's likely seasonal -- and in that case, it may be treatable with something as simple as light therapy. Read More , which simulates sunlight, is one of the best things you can do to help your seasonal affective disorder. Just sit in front of the lamp for 30 minutes or so in the morning and your body will do the rest.

When I was using a full-spectrum lamp regularly, I set it on my desk near my computer. You may need more than just one dose. Read the instructions on the lamp or talk to a doctor to get the best advice for your situation.

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The Journal of Consumer Psychology did an interesting study to demonstrate the direct correlation between light and emotions. This effect is being exploited by many smart home lighting solutions How Smart Lighting Affects Your Health (According to Science) How Smart Lighting Affects Your Health (According to Science) Several scientific studies have indicated many influences of lighting on our mental and physical health. Thankfully, smart lighting can help you achieve all of these benefits in just a few simple steps. Read More as well.

But nothing beats natural light. You can also try to take advantage of natural light as best you can. Sit near a window during the day. Get outside when it’s sunny, too. Going for a walk in the sunshine can do wonders for your energy throughout the day.

Front-Load Your Day

Many people with seasonal affective disorder find that they’re the most awake and productive in the mornings. If this is the case for you, take advantage of it! Get up a bit earlier and try to get more done in the morning. If you’re not a morning person, winter is a great time to become one by establishing some new habits 5 Ways to Refresh Your Morning Routine and Be Happier 5 Ways to Refresh Your Morning Routine and Be Happier The first hour of the day dictates how the remaining 23 will go. Take control of your day by taking control of your morning and become a happier you. Read More .

Try to prioritize your most important tasks The 3-Strike System: How To Prioritize Your To-Do List The 3-Strike System: How To Prioritize Your To-Do List Are you not getting through your to-do list? The problem might not be your productivity, it might just be your priorities. Let's learn how to prioritise the to-do list, and get things done. Read More for the beginning of the day. Keep a prioritized task list in a notebook or a task management app and use it to motivate yourself to work on high-priority items in the morning. When you can, schedule meetings in the morning, too. This is the time you’ll be most awake and alert.

Of course, if you tend to be more alert in the afternoon, reverse this advice. Everyone’s symptoms are different.

Practice Mindfulness

One of the things that’s been shown to help people suffering from SAD is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). And while I highly recommend speaking with a therapist, that’s not always practical on a daily basis. Instead, practice mindfulness Practice Mindfulness With Help From Your iPhone & These Apps Practice Mindfulness With Help From Your iPhone & These Apps Inner calm and tranquility? There's an app for that. Read More and mindful meditation. They’re often paired with CBT to form an even better treatment system.

If you’re not familiar with meditation, try downloading a guided meditation app 6 Mindful Meditation Apps That Will Improve Your Life 6 Mindful Meditation Apps That Will Improve Your Life Living a more mindful live through meditation can have amazing positive effects. Give it a try with these apps. Read More . That will help you get started on your new meditation habit. Even 10 minutes a day can make a big difference. Mindfulness is good for getting in touch with how you’re feeling, too, which can be very helpful in this situation.

Stress can be both a trigger and a result of seasonal affective disorder. Mindfulness and meditation can both help stress and help you notice when you’re not feeling yourself so you can spend some time on self-care These 5-Minute Self-Care Ideas Can Change Your Day These 5-Minute Self-Care Ideas Can Change Your Day Self-care is important every day as it often gets lost in the noise of modern life. Pick one of these self-care activities to do today because they just take five minutes. Read More . It’s always a good idea to keep your stress levels in check, but if you suffer from SAD, it’s even more crucial.

Stay on Schedule

Getting in the habit of following a specific routine every day can help get you through the winter. Schedule work, breaks, recreation, and anything else Time Blocking -- The Secret Weapon For Better Focus Time Blocking -- The Secret Weapon For Better Focus Are you looking for a more efficient way to organise your work-days? Try Time Blocking. This time management tactic can help keep you on track while keeping distractions, procrastination, and unproductive multitasking at bay. Read More you can reasonably put on a regular schedule. Using a full-spectrum lamp, exercising, and eating can also be done at the same time every day.

While you might feel sluggish throughout the day, sticking to a routine will make things much easier. You can plot it all out on Google Calendar or just make a habit of doing the same things around the same time each day. There are always lots of things that come up here and there that will throw your schedule off, but trying to stick to the same routine every day is especially important if you’re dealing with SAD.

Focus on Goals

Much like establishing a schedule, focusing on your goals can help give you a little push when being productive gets really hard. If you can continue meeting your regular goals, that’s great. But many people will need to adjust their goals and expectations to better fit with the reality of seasonal affective disorder.

smart goals in notebook
Image Credit: Bellana via Shutterstock

For example, if you try to get 15 workouts in each month in the spring, summer, and fall, you might want to aim for 10 or 12 instead. If you can still do 15, great! If not, that’s okay — it’s hard keeping up the same level of motivation and productivity through the winter. Acknowledge that you’re not going to be quite as productive, reset some of your goals, and work toward them.

As with all goals, they should be specific, measurable, and achievable 5 Critical Mistakes To Avoid When Setting Goals 5 Critical Mistakes To Avoid When Setting Goals Goal setting is a great way to cut down on procrastination and boost productivity. If you don’t have goals, you don’t have direction. Without direction, it’s easy for you to feel lost and confused. Fortunately,... Read More . Set some new goals for the winter to keep yourself motivated. Maybe you want to learn a new skill, or read more books (I love reading more in the winter). Set a couple winter goals to keep you motivated.

Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself

This is an important one, and it’s easy to overlook. But just because you’re less productive during the winter doesn’t mean you’re failing. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to meet your goals. It just means that you’re going to have to make some adjustments. You have to keep trying. As writer and editor Dayna Evans put in a Gawker article…

Though reading, staying off the internet, going for long walks, and sleeping well are all nice in theory, I fail at these things daily, and probably will forever. It’s the knowledge that I am still trying that makes feeling bad a little less bad, if only for a minute.

If you have an off day where you don’t get nearly as much done as you’d hoped, don’t get down on yourself. Just acknowledge that it’s difficult to keep up your momentum in the winter, and that you’ll do better tomorrow. Berating yourself for losing steam in the winter isn’t going to get you anywhere.

Your Best SAD Tips?

Because everyone is unique, these tips may not all work for you. There is no one size fits all advice for getting through the blues. But these guidelines will give you a place to start. Remember, though, that if your symptoms are very severe, it’s best to see a doctor before trying to tackle your seasonal affective disorder yourself!

What do you do to get through the winter? Do you have any good strategies for dealing with seasonal affective disorder? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Image Credits: Billion Photos/Shutterstock

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  1. Lou
    December 30, 2016 at 6:17 am

    Great article. Have used Vitamin D and light therapy with success. When you go to work in the dark, come home in the dark and work in a windowless office, your opportunities for natural light are pretty much non-existent.
    I recommend watching the diet. Reduced junk food intake and reduced caffeine help me. me. Cooking or preparing meals whenever possible, reducing the frozen or quick meal substitutes, and reducing take-out fast-food also help.
    Making an effort to increase socialization may help. Start with avoiding eating alone at work or at home (whenever possible). Winter hobbies or activities like curling or bowling or playing cards (with real playing cards and other people) were all helpful.

  2. Ken Mitchell
    December 26, 2016 at 7:18 am

    Light therapy for SAD: You do not need a special expensive light for this purpose. Go to your local home improvement store and buy a shop light; two 4-foot long fluorescent tubes. Put one bright white and one full spectrum tube in the fixture and hang it above your computer desk, or where ever you can spend a half-hour sitting under the lights. If you need to get up a half-hour early, DO IT and spend that time under the lights.

    At the other end of the day, make sure that your PC is running a program called "f.lux", or "Night Shift" on your Apple, or "Twilight" on your Android device. These programs will dim the screen and turn the screen color to a reddish hue so that you can sleep properly. Bright white light tricks your brain into halting the production of melatonin, which is required for good sleep.

    • Dann Albright
      December 28, 2016 at 7:48 pm

      I don't know the specs on those fluorescent bulbs, but I'd be curious to see how they stack up against SAD-specific lamps, which are surprisingly bright for being so small. I might have to look into this. Although having them pointing toward your face is going to be more effective than overheard, it's certainly possible that you could save some money that way.

      And yes, a red-shifting app for your devices at night is a great way to supplement light therapy!

      • Ken Mitchell
        December 28, 2016 at 8:24 pm

        All I can say is, the shop lights work for me. No more "winter blues"!

        • Dann Albright
          December 30, 2016 at 2:26 pm

          Well that's awesome. I hope others give it a try and find success, too!

      • Ken Mitchell
        December 28, 2016 at 8:26 pm

        All I can say for certain is that the shop lights work for me. No more "winter blues"!

  3. Gerri
    December 23, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    5,000 IU Vitamin D per day - SAD totally alleviated. I used to be depressed and cry from October through March, every year. Getting through those months was a definite struggle. Not this year!

    • Abhi
      December 24, 2016 at 1:18 am

      Thanks for that tip.

    • Watcher
      December 25, 2016 at 12:52 am

      Just go out side and get some sun! Way more effective than any amount of supplemental vitamin E!

      • Dann Albright
        December 28, 2016 at 7:44 pm

        You haven't dealt with seasonal affective disorder, have you? :-)

    • Dann Albright
      December 28, 2016 at 7:43 pm

      Some people find that effective, and it probably wouldn't hurt to supplement more D. I'd ask a doctor before taking much more than you'd get in a single supplement pill, but if it works, that's great!