As the southern hemisphere celebrates the start of summer, those north of the equator will experience the shortest day of the year, known as the winter solstice. This year, it falls on Wednesday 21 December, the first day of winter.

The word “solstice” derives from sol, the Latin word for sun, and sistere, which means “to come to a stop or make stand”.

For people who live in the Northern Hemisphere, today will be the one day of the year with the shortest period of sunlight. The solstice will begin on 4:48pm ET on 21 December, when the Earth is at its maximum tilt, 23.5 degrees, away from the sun.

For the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the opposite case, as 21 December marks the one day of the year with the longest period of sunlight.

Historically, the winter solstice has been of great importance to many cultures, such as Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome, often as a marker for the passing seasons, and a possible time of rebirth.

In northern Europe, from the Faroe Islands to Estonia, Germanic peoples have long celebrated the event, which became known as Yule.

While Yule dates back to the Norse people, who celebrated the sun’s rebirth for 12 days, it was also celebrated by Anglo-Saxon pagans.

According to Pliny the Elder, in Britain, druid priests would mark the important date by gathering mistletoe and sacrificing bulls – which was also likely a practical measure to limit the number of mouths to feed during months of famine.

In addition to mistletoe and 12 days of festivities, several Christmas traditions, such as Yule logs and decorating trees, date back to Yule, which were later adopted and adapted by Christians.

While winter may come with its bright holiday spots, figuratively speaking, these are also the darkest days of the year– in the literal sense. The sun rises at its latest, and sets at its earliest.

That could lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder look much like the same as symptoms of depression, with one key difference: the symptoms begin and end at around the same time each year. There are also a few common symptoms of depression that appear more frequently with SAD, like overeating, lethargy, and often, as a result of those two symptoms, weight gain. Other common symptoms of SAD include:

  • Feelings of depression, which may include, hopelessness, poor self-esteem, guilt, apathy, and despair.
  • More intense mood changes
  • Trouble sleeping or oversleeping
  • Irritability and the urge to isolate oneself
  • Loss of libido
  • Heightened and persistent anxiety


Coping with SAD

Below you’ll find some strategies for both treating and coping with SAD, all of which can be pursued together for the best results.

See your doctor

  • Visit with your doctor to talk about your symptoms. One person’s SAD isn’t necessarily the same as the next, and your doctor will be able to help you understand it better and figure out what your options are

Light Therapy

One possible avenue your doctor may pursue after a SAD diagnosis is light therapy, also called phototherapy. Light therapy treatment requires a lightbox – a device that emits a bright light to mimic natural light. Typically, a patient undergoing light therapy, using the lightbox, will expose him or herself to light within the first hour of waking up. The effects may take a few days or a few weeks to become noticeable, but it appears to be a valid form of SAD treatment for most patients.

Eat Well
People feeling the effects of SAD also often feel an urge to overeat, and especially to overindulge in carbohydrates. And while it may not be easy, it is far better to keep to a healthy, balanced diet. What we eat has a substantial effect on not just our physical health, but our mental health too.


Maximize your time in the sun
Because part of the problem is not getting enough sun, make the best of the daylight you can receive. This means spending time outside when you have a chance, though you may have to bundle up. It may also suggest keeping blinds open during daylight hours, or working near a lighted window when possible.


Keep to a regular sleep schedule
Because SAD is linked to disruptions in circadian rhythm, it’s important not to let your sleep schedule spiral out of control. Go to bed at a reasonable hour. Get enough rest, but resist the urge to hibernate.



Exercise has been shown to treat mild to moderate symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Additionally, exercise helps ensure you sleep comfortably and regularly when night comes, which is especially useful when coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder. So choose a physical activity you enjoy and make it a regular part of your schedule. Exercise not just to look better, but to feel better.

Keep busy

One way to keep yourself away from the urge to hibernate is to keep your schedule full. This may mean throwing yourself into your work or your studies, or it might mean taking up a new hobby or project.




A perfect way to keep busy is to surround yourself with people whose company you enjoy. Make dinner with your family. Meet a friend for coffee. Go on a first date. Our social health is a crucial piece of our overall healthiness, and it’s even more critical during times of extra emotional and mental strain.



Practice mindfulness
You may have to experiment to decide which mindfulness techniques suit you best. It may be meditation or breathing/relaxation techniques, or maybe it’s something more physically engaging, like yoga or tai chi.





If your symptoms are relatively severe and don’t seem to be improving, treatment with antidepressants may benefit you. Talk with your doctor to learn more about

pharmaceutical treatment options.

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the United States. Call or text 988,  to be connected to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or connect via chat at