It’s officially that time of year where the seasons change and, for some of us, so does our mood. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a very real problem affecting up to 20% of Americans at some point throughout the year. Traditionally, symptoms of SAD begin to manifest as the days grow shorter and the temperatures begin to drop. While there are no proven causes of the disorder, experts posit that it occurs for one of the following two reasons:

A disruption to your circadian rhythm

Everybody operates on a 24-hour clock that helps to control our functions when we are asleep or awake. The clock works to regulate when we feel tired and when we feel alert. It’s possible that the change of seasons directly impacts the circadian rhythm for some people.

A disruption to your hormone levels

An imbalance in Serotonin and/or Melatonin can be responsible for many mood-related disorders. These hormones control your mood, feelings of well-being, and help to regulate sleep. The seasonal changes may disrupt the production of these critical hormones.

The good news is that there are a lot of natural ways to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder without resorting to medication.

Use Light

If our bodies are reacting to the shorter days and grayer skies, it makes sense that exposing them to light and warmth could help to improve our mood. Dawn simulators, light boxes, and even natural sunshine (when it’s available) are great ways to stimulate your circadian rhythm and improve your mood on dark and dreary days.

Try Aromatherapy

Certain scents are capable of elevating moods and affecting key parts of our brain. Specifically, they are thought to influence sleep and appetite by way of our internal clock. Consider adding essential oils to your routine. Studies indicate that poplar tree scents, in particular, could be beneficial when treating mood disorders.

Stay Active

We’re all guilty of slowing down in the winter. The biting cold and early evenings can make it difficult to maintain motivation. Those with symptoms of SAD should make a strong effort to keep up with an exercise routine. The endorphins released during physical activity are natural mood elevators and, as a bonus, staying active helps stave off some of the inevitable winter weight that is often associated with the disorder. Also, it is important to keep a positive mindset about the temperature. Try and exercise outside if at all possible, even if it’s just a short walk on your lunch break

Follow A Schedule

Establishing and sticking to a regular sleep pattern is essential for feeling well-rested and, when you’re well-rested, your mood tends to improve. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Use your bed only for sleeping. Adding a drop or two of essential oil onto your pillowcase or waking up with a dawn simulator instead of a jarring alarm clock can also help to make the sleep cycle more restful. During the day, try to eat at regularly scheduled intervals to keep energy levels from dropping. Be careful not to overeat or snack. You’ll want to consume foods with strong nutritional values and pay specific attention to your Vitamin D intake!

Seasonal Affective Disorder does not have to ruin your life. When you are aware of the symptoms, you can actively take measures to combat them in a healthy, natural way. If natural treatment doesn’t seem to be working, do not be afraid to contact your doctor. Don’t let shorter days and colder temperatures keep you from living your best life this winter!