Now that the holidays have come and gone, and the long, cold winter season has fully set in, it is not uncommon for feelings of sadness and depression to follow, even in people who are typically happy and content with their lives. Believe it or not, those feelings might not have anything to do with what’s going on in your personal life. Instead, they may be the result of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a condition that affects three million people each year. Researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes SAD, but they do know that it traditionally comes on during the winter months and is more likely to manifest itself in women than men. The condition also seems to have some connection with the sun, as the number of diagnosed cases increases the further you move away from the equator. During the winter months, those areas tend to have much shorter days, with less exposure to sunlight. Symptoms of SAD include feeling tired, moody, and anxious, along with a general lack of interest in most activities. It can also bring on a growing sense of pessimism and boredom and a decreased sex drive. To make matters worse, SAD can also lead to a tendency toward oversleeping and overeating, with deep cravings for carbohydrates such as bread and pasta. This can ultimately lead to weight gain, which further fuels the feelings of depression and moodiness. Treatment for SAD often includes light therapy, which uses a device called a light box to create artificial ultraviolet light that can help reset the body’s natural clock, in turn helping to improve your sleep and general mood. Some doctors will also prescribe antidepressants or other medications to alleviate the symptoms. But there is a more natural way to combat seasonal affective disorder that has also proven to be very effective. Simply heading outside for some much-needed exposure to sunlight and fresh air has been shown to lessen the impact of SAD or help people avoid it altogether. It seems that the light of the sun, even on cloudy days, can go a long way toward making us feel much better. In addition to getting more exposure to natural light, exercise can have positive benefits as well. Working out regularly helps us feel more energetic and burn calories, and has been shown to fight depression. Those are all qualities that are essential to staving off the effects of SAD. If you find yourself feeling a bit moody and depressed this winter, it could be a result of seasonal affective disorder. Why not plan on including a few outdoor activities in your daily routine to help your condition? Something as simple as a short run in the morning or a daily walk during your lunch break could make all of the difference. Obviously, you’ll need to dress appropriately for the weather, but with the right clothes you’ll find that you’ll be plenty warm, especially once you get moving. SAD is a real concern for millions of people, and it is definitely not something to take lightly. But fortunately the treatment is a simple one that can have dramatic effects. Go outside, get some exercise, and before you know it you’ll be feeling like your old self again.