10 Ways to Kick Seasonal Depression Without Popping a Single Pill

It is not just a funk.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can be devastating, a yearly onslaught of anxiety, lethargy and hopelessness that is as predictable as the turning of the leaves, or the coming of the rain. Drugs are one of the last options, and no one should be judged for using whatever tools they have to escape what can become an unbearable situation. But before you ask your doctor for a prescription, you might want to try these ten alternative methods to help combat your yearly SAD.

Open the Blinds

If you can’t go outside due to rain, cold or snow, optimize your interior environment. Trade your heavy, insulating summer window treatments for lighter curtains or blinds. Trim trees that cover your windows. Take your laptop and work from your kitchen table or in a room with better light.

Absorb Some Negative Ions

A few studies have shown that an atmosphere rich in negative ions might be an effective, and specific, treatment for seasonal depression. If you don’t feel like shelling out the thirty dollars to purchase a negative ionizer, hanging out in warm, humid places, like a hot bath or a sauna, would do the trick.

Get Outside

Unless you live in Alaska or Antarctica, you will see some small amount of sunlight during the day, even if the light is obscured by clouds. A brief, brisk walk — preferably in the morning, to help set your Circadian rhythm — will stave off some of SAD’s symptoms. Additional studies show that exposure to nature helps elevate your mood.

Work Out Regularly

Your depression will only be exacerbated if you let yourself become rundown. Exercise releases endorphins and strengthens your immune system. It also has other, immeasurable positive side effects—for example, increased confidence if you meet your training goals. Planning your daily workout can also give you you a necessary distraction from your worries.


Instead of being a source of joy and anticipation, the holidays are one of the biggest stressors in the colder months. Contemplating the travel, the cost and fragile family relationships can often drive even happy, stable people round the bend. Every day, take a few minutes to sit still, listen to your breathing and concentrate your attention on the present moment, instead of the future or the past. As Dr. Andrew Weil writes in his book Spontaneous Happiness, fragmented attention can lead to poor emotional health.

Eat Fish and Drink Milk

Omega-3s have been shown to have a mood-stabilizing effect. Researchers speculate that increasing omega-3 levels in your diet might make it possible for serotonin, a mood-affecting neurotransmitter, to pass through your cell membranes. If you can’t stomach the taste of salmon, increasing your tryptophan levels has also been shown to help alleviate depression. Try drinking a cup of warm milk before bedtime.

Fill Up Your Social Calendar

An unnecessarily cruel side effect of depression is that it causes you to want to withdraw from the world. It also makes you misread social cues and react to negative ones more strongly. But keeping up with your friends and family will also help lift your mood. Instead of trying to attend holiday parties, find the time to get coffee or watch a movie with a close friend.

Try Light Therapy

Light therapy is one of the single fastest ways to treat depression. With a light box, symptoms usually ease within four to seven days (antidepressants can take up to four to seven weeks to work). When choosing a light box, make sure that you’re buying one specifically for seasonal depression. Light therapy is also used to treat skin disorders, and those that emit UV rays can damage your eyes.

Get a Massage

Admittedly, the studies on whether or not massage is an effective treatment for depression, in particular, are a little crude. It’s impossible to create a “blind” study and give a massage to a test subject without him or her knowing it. Nevertheless, preliminary results are encouraging. Massage reduces stress and induces relaxation, as well as provoking the release of soothing oxytocin.

Take a Trip

If all else fails, schedule a vacation in February or March for a warmer, sunnier clime. Even a temporary lifting of your depression is better than none at all. And doesn’t travel solve virtually everything?

Images: lrargerich, Boris Mitendorfer Photography, e-wander.