You’re having trouble waking up and your constant carb cravings have caused you to pack on the pounds. Though you may be telling yourself that these changes are common in the winter months, they could be signs of something more serious: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Common from September to May, when limited daylight can cause mood-boosting serotonin levels to dip, the condition sometimes results in grumpiness, lethargy, and appetite changes. The disease can also leave you less interested in your favorite activities and make you shy away from social situations.
If you feel like you might be suffering from SAD, you’re not alone: It affects 27 million American women to varying degrees. “Women of childbearing age are the most susceptible,” says Norman Rosenthal, M.D., a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School and author of Winter Blues. “We think the higher rate is due to estrogen making the brain more reactive to light, which means females need more exposure to the sun to be happy.”
While severe cases of this condition can be treated with antidepressants, exercise and diet could ease symptoms. Nuts, packed with omega-3s, and lowfat milk, rich in vitamins D and B12, might help since those nutrients all play a part in serotonin production. Rosenthal also recommends sitting near a light box, a device that mimics sunshine, for 30 minutes a day. One to try: Lumie Zip box by BioBrite ($199; biobrite.com).