Most people will benefit from a light therapy lamp that emits full-spectrum or broad-spectrum light (which means it mimics natural light), he explains. The Mayo Clinic suggests placing the light box (which should have a brightness of at least 10,000 lux) 16 to 24 inches away from your face and using it for about 20 to 30 minutes each day, ideally within the first hour of waking up.
The best time to begin this practice? Now. “Starting light therapy before the onset of SAD symptoms, in early to mid fall, can serve as a preventive measure,” Dr. Chan says. This can set and stabilize your circadian rhythms ahead of time, so they’re less likely to get derailed when you’re in the thick of winter.
Dr. Chan recommends the Philips HF3520 Wake-Up Light ($99, Amazon): It’s a reputable product, he says, that has customizable sound and light settings, including a gradual sunrise-simulating option. You can also consider the light boxes on this helpful list from the Yale School of Medicine.
Make a point to connect with loved ones.
When it’s nice outside, it’s easier to make plans and stay connected to your social circle. When it gets colder and darker, many people (myself included) prefer to stay indoors and hang out at home, perhaps alone. In fact, most folks who experience SAD symptoms, even mildly, feel like their social life takes a hit during winter, research shows.
As we switch from fall to winter, and maybe feel enticed to hibernate, it’s worth being intentional about seeing friends and family, Janelle S. Peifer, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Richmond, tells SELF. “In anticipation of the emotional strain and stress that can come with the coldest season, ensure that you’re scheduling pleasant activities that can lift your mood,” Dr. Peifer recommends.
That way, when you feel yourself wanting to hunker down at home, you’ll already have plans penciled in–the hard part is done. Sprinkling your calendar with social activities you’re looking forward to (maybe that’s a concert, holiday craft night, or a wine and cheese party) will keep you connected and ultimately help you feel less blah, explains Dr. Peifer. Setting up some hangouts now means you won’t have to deal with the hassle of coordinating schedules and coming up with ideas later.
Plan to stay physically active too.
During the summer, I love to go on a jog right after I wrap up my work for the day. It helps me reset and soak up some natural light before dusk hits—but now that the sun sets around 6 p.m. here in Philly (which will soon be 4:50—yikes), I’ve already given up on my evening run. Research shows that people exercise, on average, eight minutes less and ditch many of their summertime physical activities during January, February, and March. (I’m not the only one!)