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Seasonal Affective Disorder: five tips for kicking the winter blues

Weather forecasting models are anticipating lower than average temperatures for the majority of the country to carry into March, with February expected to be the coldest month of winter. As the mercury in the thermostat drops, so too can the moods of the estimated 5 percent of the U.S. population that experiences Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression that typically begins in late fall or early winter and ends with the arrival of spring and summer.

Vicki Bautista, EdD, a national board-certified health and wellness coach, professor and assistant program director of Creighton University’s health and wellness coaching program, said the amount of sunlight a person receives is believed to be a contributing factor to experiencing the disorder. According to Mental Health America, women and younger children are more likely to develop SAD. The disorder is diagnosed four times more often in women than men, and the average age of onset is 23. Known warning signs of include fatigue, overeating/weight gain, excessive sleeping and increased social isolation.

As much of the country is experiencing right now, escaping the cold could continue to be a challenge in the weeks ahead, but Bautista said there are techniques that can counter the debilitating factors that accompany frigid temperatures. For those growing weary of winter, Bautista recommends the following tips for improving your mood:

Light therapy – sitting or working in a room with a light therapy box that provides artificial light that mimics natural outdoor light can affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep. Bautista said simply making an effort to sit in front of window can be beneficial, too.

Commit to a hobby – having something to look forward to during a slower time of year can be an effective way to elevate mental health.

Stay social – maintain social activity. If going outside isn’t an option, have people in for movie and game nights, and make an effort to attend gatherings when invited, even if only for short periods of time.

Focus on health – balance cravings for carbohydrates and sugars with servings of fruits and vegetables to raise energy levels and boost mood. Getting regular exercise is a good mode of defense for the winter blues. A midday walk, especially on brighter days, can be as effective as light therapy.

Improve your latitude – people who live closer to the equator are less likely to experience SAD than those further removed, so if affordable, taking a trip to a warmer climate can not only improve mental health while on location, but the planning itself can occupy time and provide something to look forward to.

More information on Creighton’s health and wellness coaching program is available here.


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