Seasonal affective disorder hits 16 million Americans every year. Here’s how to beat it

Seasonal affective disorder is more common than you think. Here's some strategies to fight it off this winter

Man taking in the sunlight, suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Do you suffer from seasonal affective disorder? Better known as SAD, it's a condition which is essentially seasonal depression: during the winter months, a sufferer's mental health takes a turn for the worst. 

If so, you're not alone, and it may be time to invest in one of the best SAD lamps.  According to the Cleveland Clinic and the National Institute of Mental Health, around 5% of Americans – approximately 16.5 million – may have the condition, some without even knowing it. That's a lot of people. Symptoms are similar to depression, in that you could feel morose or apathetic for part of the day, loss of interest in formerly pleasurable activities, or changes in appetite or sleep. 

If you're one of the millions of people who have begun feeling down as winter is drawing in, knowing this is happening to lots of other people, and that it's perfectly normal, might be a comfort, and it's the same all around the world. The UK's NHS estimates it affects two million Britons and a further 12 million people across the rest of Europe. 

Running autumn vitamin D

(Image credit: Nathalie Desiree/Unsplash)

With so many suffering, how do we manage the condition? For starters, it's important to get enough vitamin D into your body, known as the "sunshine vitamin". Vitamin D has been strongly linked with improved mood, and winter is when we tend to absorb less of this vitamin through sunshine.

One way of doing this is to get out on sunny days, going for a walk or run where you can. Lacing up a pair of the best shoes for walking and hitting the great outdoors can be a real mood-booster, as just 20 minutes in nature has been found to lower the stress hormone cortisol and improve feelings of well-being, according to Harvard University. You could also try taking a vitamin D tablet to top up your levels, or opt for a sunlight-simulating lamp.

Depression is a difficult thing to live with. We'd never be so flippant as to say eating healthily, meditation and exercising will make these feelings vanish. However, a healthy routine and positive lifestyle interventions have been linked to a reduction in depressive symptoms. 

Even if it won't address the root cause of the issue, a healthy diet, regular exercise and mindfulness might help to manage the symptoms. For more info, you can try our how to meditate guide, which can help you complete your first two-minute session.

Matt Evans
Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.