Feeling SAD? Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a legitimate disorder brought on by a change in weather.

The shorter days and colder weather of winter is here — and so is the increase in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The American Academy of Family Physicians found that 4 to 6 percent of Americans suffer from SAD.

Are you are feeling unmotivated and depressed? Are you irritable? Do you suffer from lack of sleep or lapses in concentration? If it’s the winter time and there’s no apparent reason for these feelings, you might be prone to SAD.

Here are eight techniques to help you ease the intensity of SAD:

1. Use dawn simulators

Toss out the loud, annoying alarm and wake up peacefully with clocks that mimic the changing light of the sun. Dawn simulators gradually wake you up with light that increases in intensity to simulate morning sunshine. The most effective ones use full-spectrum light, which is as close to natural light as possible.

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2. Breathe in essential oils

Essentials oils are the purest essence of a plant — their oils. Essential oils promote restoration in the body and influence moods. And they don’t just smell good — essential oils have shown to have the effect of an antidepressant on depressive disorders.

3. Exercise

Exercise is a common prescription to ease depression. Moderate exercise such as walking, running and yoga releases endorphins and neurotransmitters to the brain. These chemicals can increase your mood and keep your immune system healthy.

4. Go outside

Get as much natural light as you can if you are fighting seasonal depression or wintertime seasonal affective disorder. If you get home after dark, change your schedule and bundle up for a walk during lunch — the Vitamin D from the sun boosts your energy.

5. Create a schedule

People suffering from SAD typically gain weight and can’t sleep during the winter months. Outline a schedule that enables you to wake daily at the same time. Be consistent in your exposure to daylight and the times that you eat to help improve your mental outlook. By following several of these steps simultaneously, you should be able to get to sleep easier — and feel better, too.

“Exercise may reduce their risk for developing troublesome sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome,” said Raj Dasgupta, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and a pulmonologist at the USC Sleep Disorders Center at Keck Medicine of USC. “It can also be especially helpful if you are able to exercise outdoors to let your body absorb natural sunlight during the daytime hours to help with your circadian rhythm.”

6. Take a vacation

There are several benefits from taking vacation. Planning a trip creates day-by-day excitement and gives you something to look forward to. Choosing a warmer climate boosts your Vitamin D intake and provides an escape from the cold — both of which are guaranteed to lift your mood. And the residual effects of a vacation are great — you’ll notice that your lighter mood lingers even after you return home.

7. Meditate

Meditation involves learning how to quiet your mind in the middle of chaos. It also helps you be intentional with how you react. Consistently practicing this form of focus balances seasonal depression by decreasing anxiety and enhancing overall well-being.

Don’t have time to fully meditate? Try just taking a break.

“Take frequent pauses and breaths throughout the day and remain mindful,” suggests Rick A. Friedman, MD, PhD, professor of otolaryngology – head and neck surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and division director of otology, neurotology and skull base surgery in the USC Tina and Rick Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at Keck Medicine of USC. “By taking frequent pauses, your body is able to reset and stay calm throughout the day. This helps to eliminate the increased pulse rate and blood pressure associated with anxiety.”

8. Speak with your doctor

SAD is a form of depression. Therapeutic ways to combat SAD don’t always work. If you can’t shake feelings of anxiety and sadness, find a mental health professional to guide you to treatment that is best for you.

By Heidi Tyline King

Do you suspect you suffer from SAD? Reach out to a Keck Medicine professional for help. To schedule an appointment with one of our mental health professionals, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit www.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment.