Late fall and early winter is my favorite time of the year. I love the taste of bubbly spiced cider, the smell of pumpkin pie baking, the sight of holiday decorations in stores and on houses and the spirit of giving and thankfulness that gives the holidays such a wonderful, cheery atmosphere. However, as Christmas and New Year's pass and the deep freeze of winter really sets in, those warm bubbly feelings evaporate, leaving me feeling cold and empty. Having the winter blues is a real condition that affects thousands of people every year. Medical professionals refer to severe cases of it as "seasonal affective disorder" or SAD, for short.

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of the winter blues can start any time during the fall or winter. They might be brought on by the extra stress generated by tightened budgets during the holidays or the presence of extra out-of-town company. You'll start to feel moody, sapped of energy and unable to feel excited for the things that you normally love. It's a recognized type of depression that tends to occur at the same time every year. If you develop SAD, you may need medication, phototherapy or psychotherapy. So don't brush it off, thinking it is a normal, inevitable feeling.

If, however, you just have a mild case of the blues, there are a few things you can do to fight back.

1. Get some sun

One reason we feel depressed during the winter is because of a lack of exposure to sunlight. Sunlight, when it is absorbed by the skin, provides Vitamin D, a necessary nutrient for the human body. When it's cold and frequently cloudy, you might not be getting enough natural light. So when it is sunny, be sure you get outside and engage in some physical activity, whether it's walking, building a snowman or having a snowball fight.

2. Eat a nutritious diet

When you are inside all day, you're more likely to snack on unhealthy foods. A lack of energy can also trigger the munchies, causing you to eat more frequently than you otherwise would. Pay attention to what you eat and make sure you're getting sufficient servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

3. Plan ahead

When you're smack in the middle of the winter doldrums, it's hard to think your life will ever be anything but cold and dark. Planning ahead for something you want to do in the future will help keep you forward-thinking. Even if it's just a weekend getaway one month from now, you will be less likely to dwell so much on the interminable boredom of the present.

4. Enjoy the season

There are some things you can do during the winter you can't comfortably do any other time of the year. So get your fill of all the great things about the colder months. Drink lots of hot chocolate, cuddle up to a warm fire (or heater vent), snuggle with your hubby under a toasty blanket, wrap up in warm clothes and go sledding or skiing or make snow angels and snowmen.

Before you know it, the cold of winter will be a faint memory, and you'll be sweltering in the summer again just wishing for a breath of cold air.

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