S.A.D.ness 2008

Exactly one year ago today, I posted the following. I could have rewritten it nearly verbatim this winter — including Sunday night’s deboning of a chicken. Here’s the difference: this year I started my multivitamin and excercise routine well in advance. So the only piece I neglected (until this Sunday . . . silly silly silly me) was my light lamp. My happy box. My cube ‘o wonder. It took me years of prodding to finally purchase one — maybe this post will be somebody’s prod!


Sunday night, somewhere between a fit of crying, a fight with my husband, and the violent deboning of a roast chicken, it hit me – this wasn’t “sad”; this was S.A.D.

One would think regularity would ease self-diagnosis. Starting in middle school, winter blues have descended the week after daylight savings – like clockwork. Only this year they didn’t. The days grew shorter, but my mood stayed upbeat. It’s been a warm winter here on the East Coast. Warm enough to spend more time outside in the yard, riding my bike, monitoring recess. The extra exposure daylight seemed to have a moderating affect. And when I began, post-Christmas, to feel a bit raw inside, I had a thousand reasonable explanations – a bad cold, a serious family illness, an emotional situation with a student, grades due. But when happy songs, deep poetry, escape fiction, and hot chocolate weren’t helping, when introspection became a vicious cycle of self-doubt, when my moods had taxed my husband’s patience, I finally figured it out.

In past years, I have found a nearly perfect formula to keep the specter of winter at bay. It’s simple, it’s been recommended by my doctor and by reputable research studies, and it works quickly. I just wish I had implemented it a month ago . . .

1) Thirty minutes of exercise a day. Good for the body in general – vital in the winter. I spend 20 minutes on the Nordic Track when I wake up and try to take a quick brisk walk mid-day.

2) A daily muli-vitamin. Make sure it has those good B vitamins.

3) 30 – 60 minutes using a light lamp. My husband calls this my happy box. I place it on the Nordic track in the morning and use it while correcting papers at night. Sunday night, I retrieved it from the top of the closet and after three days, I can feel my body recalibrating. I love my happy box.

How do you keep the winter blues in check?


Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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13 Responses

  1. makakona says:

    four grams a day of fish oil and some time, ANY time, outside.

    or you could go my sister-in-law’s route… she left icy russia to spend december and january in beautiful brazil.

  2. Keri says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I’ve been meaning to get a light box for a while, but I haven’t gotten around to it. I don’t have any winter blues suggestions because I only figured out last year that I have SAD. (It actually explains a lot of things over the past few years.) Anyway, your post was definitely my prod.

  3. Caroline says:

    Having lived in So Cal my whole life, I’ve never experienced a really dark cold winter. Most winter days here are sunny and around 65 degrees.

    But if I ever do live in a dark cold place, I’m going to think about purchasing a happy box. I can see myself feeling down in that situation.

  4. Marie says:

    I moved to So. California. I sit in the sun in my kitchen for a while everyday and that seems to help. Someday, when we move, I will get one of those boxes.

  5. Deborah says:

    Makakona: My husband recently took to eating 4 ounces of salmon every morning — he notices a difference in his mood (and he’s not prone to depression). Hmm . . .

    Keri: Do it. I feel like Sir Gawain — power rising and falling with the sun. In some ways, I am glad that my body is so responsive to light — keeps me in wonder of Sunday days and big windows.

    My husband is New England through and through. SoCal is a fantasy . . . 🙂

  6. Ana says:

    California has helped a lot!

    I used to get SAD, living in Utah, and never realized it until one day in about March I realized that *this* was what happy felt like.

  7. Deborah says:

    Make that “Sunny” not “Sunday.”

    Ana: That’s the crazy thing about S.A.D. For me, it descends slowly until it is simply “the new normal.” And then the sun returns, and I look back in wonder.

  8. Keri says:

    I notice that the consensus is that California helps with SAD. I shudder to think what would happen to me if I ever leave. Although I did notice a big improvement when I left San Francisco for Fremont. What a difference 30 miles can make.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I dunno. I can feel that lethargy and disconnect with life even on a brilliantly sunny day here in MN. I am on anti-depressants which help. But with sub-zero temps and icy conditions for walking outside, I don’t get that exercise I’m used to March-October. We don’t have room or $$ for a treadmill. I think exercise is what I’m lacking the most. Vitamins never seemed to make any difference.

  10. Anonymous says:

    AND, oddly enough, today has been dark and dreary but I’ve been happy all day. Who woulda thunk?

  11. Lija says:


    In December I was planning with my book group what we would be reading for the next three months after reading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s new book and specifically remember you years ago saying the February was one of the hardest months of the year. For some reason this has stuck with me and I felt the need to insist that we read a happy book this month. We settled on People of Paradox by Teryl Givens… either way I was just finally getting around to reading Sunstone’s current issue and low and behold your beautiful, benevolent smiling face jumped out at me!
    I would love to hear how you are and be in touch.

    Be well.

    Lija Staks

  12. Deborah says:

    Yeah! Leja! I actually googled you in a whiff of nostalgia this summer but couldn’t figure out where you were at!

    Shoot me an e-mail at exponentblog at gmail dot com (which I haven’t checked recently — sorry if other people have sent inquiries . . . oops!)

  13. Deborah says:

    Yeah! Leja! I actually googled you in a whiff of nostalgia this summer but couldn’t figure out where you were at!

    Shoot me an e-mail at exponentblog at gmail dot com (which I haven’t checked recently — sorry if other people have sent inquiries . . . oops!)

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