The days are growing shorter and temperatures are falling gracefully. I witness the golden hues of warmer seasons ease into savory palettes as nature sheds its summer glow.

Trees blush in autumn shades, coloring the ground with multicolored muses. The sun slips into solitude before dinner these days, leaving us to tend our lives under darkening skies. Seasons change right before our eyes, altering the rhythm of our worlds and cueing the winter blues.

The winter blues, commonly referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or seasonal depression, is a type of depression caused by a change in seasons. Dwindling daylight hours confuse our circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock, setting the stage for the blues. The limited exposure to sunlight we experience during late fall and winter months disrupts hormones like serotonin and melatonin which regulate mood, general well-being and sleep patterns.

Some symptoms of seasonal depression include insomnia or oversleeping, persistent feelings of sadness, mood swings, lethargy, loss of interest in activities that would otherwise be enjoyable, changes in appetite and increased feelings of irritation, apathy and helplessness. Each person experiences Seasonal Affective Disorder differently. However, no matter how your symptoms manifest, there are a number of practical self-care strategies to combat the winter blues.

Establish a routine

In the absence of sunlight, it becomes even more important to establish a routine to maintain a sense of normalcy, especially since seasonal depression interferes with our sleep health and patterns. Not sleeping enough can have negative effects on mood and emotional function. Sleeping too much decreases the amount of time we spend in the daylight, which could aggravate or worsen symptoms of depression.

Maintaining morning and evening routines or schedules to wake up and wind down each day helps the body establish a consistent rhythm, which helps alleviate symptoms and support your well-being. A simple routine could include journaling, guided meditation and stretching around the same time each day.

Find your light

Light therapy, one of the most highly recommended methods to combat SAD, is an alternative fluorescent light source designed to offset the decrease in sun exposure. Light boxes mimic sunshine and help keep the body’s circadian rhythm on track. Sitting near a light box increases the body’s energy and improves overall mood. Use of a light box is recommended for twenty to thirty minutes within the first hour you are awake.

I have also found smart light bulbs that simulate daylight and dusk lighting conditions to be effective. Some options even come with apps which allow you to create schedules that automatically turn on, brighten or dim lights at a certain time of day. I’ve found that to be supportive during months when my schedule requires me to be awake before day breaks.

Whether you use supplemental lighting or not, it’s important to find a natural light source and stay close to it. Even if the sun isn’t shining, exposing your body to daylight will help support your well-being and ease some of the emotional symptoms of seasonal depression.

Keep it moving

Movement has been proven to help alleviate stress and improve mood, and it doesn’t have to be structured to be effective. You can start your day with a workout, a good stretch or take a stroll around the block. Movement increases serotonin and endorphins, which help improve mood, self-esteem and well-being. And yes! Dancing counts, too. Studies have shown that dancing boosts dopamine, a happy hormone, and reduces stress. So press play on your favorite track and cut a rug.

Eat for your moods

Food plays an essential role in the ways our bodies function. What we eat affects the way we feel. Sugar and carb cravings increase during the colder months; it’s not uncommon to give into guilty pleasures and comfort foods in an effort to quiet the winter blues. There’s nothing criminal about treating yourself to something sweet and soothing. However, balance and moderation are important in regard to nutrition.

The goal is to consume more foods that positively affect our mood and support nervous system regulation. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids–such as salmon, walnuts, and pasteurized eggs–help boost serotonin, reducing depression and improving mood. Leafy greens like broccoli, spinach, kale and collards help support brain and nervous system function with their B-vitamin content. Berries, with their high fiber content, provide clean, crash-free energy to help combat fatigue when energy levels are low.

Get tapped in

Darker months may lead to increased feelings of isolation. Long periods of social isolation can exacerbate seasonal depression symptoms like sadness, lethargy and loneliness. Building and connecting with community is a great way to stay engaged through the winter, and there are a number of ways to stay connected.

You can spend time in person with people whose safety needs and interests align with yours. If you’re not as comfortable sharing physical space with others, finding virtual community spaces is an accessible alternative. Virtual workshops, events and online watch parties, such as Twitter watch parties hosted by #BlkCreatives, are all inclusive ways to connect. Setting up group chats with friends or family is another great way to receive and reciprocate support during the hibernation period. It doesn’t matter how, but it’s important to stay tapped in with a supportive, engaging and uplifting community.

click the pic to watch the replay of navigating seasonal depression with #blkcreatives member Tyler