Why Now’s the Time to Attack Winter Blues

Don’t despair — the summer sun might stick around.

But for those who struggle with seasonal affective disorder, now is the time to take action.

Dr. Melinda Ring, medical director for Northwestern Medicine’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, advises preparing now — yes, right after Labor Day.

“This is the right time for people to start thinking about it,” she said, “not in December or January, where it’s already kicked in and they’re just trying to play catch up.”

Ring brings up seasonal issues with her clients now, before they come in during December feeling low. After temperatures briefly dropped to the 60s two weeks ago, she realized it was time.

The Mayo Clinic reports that for most people with seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, symptoms begin in the fall and continue through winter.

Happily, many different elements can combat darkness-induced blues.

Now might be the time to order a light-therapy box, make a doctor’s appointment or start planning diet and exercise options.

Ring recommends light therapy, through a light box that mimics natural light. Key to using one is making sure it’s propped up, she said.

“It doesn’t work by landing on your skin; it works by entering your eyes,” she said.

Start using it at the end of September, she recommends, about 15 to 30 minutes in the morning, at work or at home.

This ensures that the effects, which can take a few weeks, start before cold sets in.

Those who incorporate prescription antidepressants when the light leaves should schedule that appointment now, Ring added. Medication can take weeks to begin working.

Another thing to factor in? Lifestyle changes that can ease seasonal affective disorder, which Ring estimates affects as much as 20 percent of the population.

Start plotting how you will exercise when it’s too cold to go outdoors, preferably 30 minutes most days of the week, she advised.

“Sometimes people are good about exercising in the summer, when they go outside — maybe they’re in a volleyball league,” Ring said. “Start thinking about what the fall-winter regimen is going to be.”

And during winter, people often crave carbs. But foods high in B6 and B12 vitamins can actually ease mood disorders, Ring said. So find recipes that incorporate those foods, like avocados, sweet potatoes, fish and eggs.

Weekly sessions of acupuncture also prove helpful for some, she said.

However the winter blues might affect you, plotting a proactive plan of attack now can help.

“It’s so much easier to do it when you’re not feeling low and lacking motivation,” Ring said. “Getting those habits started now is really the best thing.”

By Allison Bowen