How to Combat Feeling SAD During the Winter

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It’s hard to not feel sad at some point during the winter. The holidays aren’t easy for everyone, and people who embrace and enjoy all the excitement of the season often find themselves emotionally depleted come January. Short days and long nights make for decreased exposure to sunlight, and we spend fewer hours outdoors. Absorbing fewer rays from the sun has a negative effect on most people, which can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). As the acronym implies, this results in a feeling of sadness triggered by wintertime conditions.

Equestrians are at risk for experiencing varying degrees of SAD because we are accustomed to being outside much of the time. Spring, summer, and fall find us catching our horse and spending as much time in the saddle as we can. But short, cold days and the hard, frozen ground that winter brings greatly reduces our riding time. This can trigger feelings of depression, even in people who are normally upbeat and cheerful.

Risk factors

According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 5 percent of adults in the US are afflicted by the disorder each year. Symptoms generally last about 40 percent of the year. January and February are typically the worst months. Risk factors include:

  • Being female
  • Living far (either north or south) from the equator
  • Family history of SAD or other forms of depression

Although women are more likely to be diagnosed with SAD, men are at risk as well and shouldn’t ignore any symptoms.

Symptoms of depression

  • Decreased appetite
  • Lack of interest in activities you normally enjoy
  • Unusual tiredness, often characterized by a reluctance to get out of bed or a desire to sleep more than usual
  • Sighing a lot
  • Weight gain
  •  Inability to sleep
  • Withdrawing from people you love

Affected people may experience some or all of these symptoms. In severe cases, a person might be unable to go to work or perform usual duties, such as childcare, cooking, and household cleaning. Personal relationships may be damaged.


There is help – SAD is an entirely treatable condition. Here are a few ways to combat SAD before it takes a negative hold on your mental state:

  • Sunlight
    Even sitting outside for 10 minutes during a break can help alleviate symptoms of SAD. Sunboxes, or special lights designed to mimic the sun’s rays, can be used indoors to reap the same results in about 20 minutes a day.

  • Exercise
    Working out releases endorphins, which are activated when we move our bodies enough to raise our heart rate and sweat a bit. Endorphins help us feel happy.

  • Routine
    It’s easy to slip into a different, self-destructive routine during the winter months. Use an alarm if necessary to keep getting up at your normal time, which will in turn help maintain your normal bedtime and standard sleep hours.

  • Hobby
    Quilting, playing cards, reading, indoor basketball, leather work, or crafting are all hobbies that can be enjoyed during the cold months, when the sun isn’t luring us outside to ride our horses at all waking hours.

  • Psychotherapy, aka “talk therapy”
    Talking to a trained therapist can help you sort through what’s causing SAD and get back to feeling better.
  • Medication
    Many types of prescription drugs are available to combat the symptoms of SAD if you need additional help. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to ask your doctor; they commonly see all forms of depression and just want to help you feel better.


Feeling SAD isn’t your fault. You don’t have to accept feeling miserable until springtime arrives with longer, warmer days and more sunshine. There are things you can do to feel happy again, even during the winter. You just need to recognize the symptoms and reach out for help – the sooner, the better.

“I’d recommend seeing your primary care doctor if you feel it’s affecting your quality of life and get a referral to a mental health therapist who is trained to help people navigate SAD,” says Dani Merriam, a Licensed Professional Counselor.

Merriam usually works with clients online, a format that makes therapy sessions even more accessible. If you’d like to check out this option, ask your doctor for more information. Everyone, including you, deserves to feel happiness and realize their full potential all year long.

Posted in: Featured, Uncategorized

About Jolyn Young

Jolyn Young lives near Montello, NV with her cowboy husband and 3 small kids. For more, visit

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