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9 Tips to Beat the Winter Blues

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Approximately 10 million Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and an additional 20 million or more experience a milder form of seasonal depression.

As the days grow shorter and the weather gets colder, around one in 20 people prepare for their annual battle with "the winter blues."

Here are 9 things you can do to chase away the winter blues:

1. Start a new activity or take a class on something you've always wanted to do. You are less likely to fall prey to depression when occupied by things that excite you. A classroom environment allows you to focus on your hobby without feeling obliged to talk much.

2. Join the choir or a singing group. One Swedish study of more than 12,000 people found that singing in a choir seemed to promote longevity as well as boost health and mood.

3. Take a sauna. Remind your body what those hot summer days really feel like, and visualize their return. Many people with SAD report feeling better if they stay warm.

4. Monitor your energy levels. When your energy appears to be waning, turn to light exercise, especially if you can get outdoors. Even a brisk 10-minute walk in the sunshine will elevate endorphin levels.

5. Sleep well, but less. Craving sleep is a symptom of SAD, but research shows that restricting excessive sleep can help boost mood and energy levels. Save sleeping in for one day a week. You may find waking up easier with an alarm clock that works by faking a dawn.

6. Watch sweets and alcohol. Research suggests that people with SAD process sugar differently in winter than in summer (or with light therapy). Cutting down on simple sugars can help stabilize your serotonin levels.

7. If you wear eyeglasses, remove them for at least 20 minutes and expose yourself to natural sunlight. Eyeglasses and especially sunglasses can block the entry of sunlight into the eyes and slow down its effects on the body.

8. Cut down on coffee and other caffeinated beverages. Several studies have linked depression with a high intake of caffeine. They show that depressed patients tend to consume fairly large amounts of caffeine. Try substituting herbal tea, decaf coffee or mineral water.

9. Write down your 10 best autumn and winter memories in a beautiful notebook to share with your friends and children. It may not be that the seasons are your enemy so much as a lack of light – and that can be tackled!

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