By Emilee Drerup

If it feels as if these cloudy winter days have been dragging on, you’re not wrong: There were 21 days in January that were considered “mostly cloudy.” Furthermore, the end of January included six consecutive days without sunshine, marking the longest stretch of overcast skies since January 2015, according to 13 ABC Toledo’s Christina Williams.

For many, the lack of sunshine can cause the winter blues. Sunshine is a known mood booster and without it, these cold, short, dark days sometimes make us want to curl up and stay home. But it may be more than that.

Researchers at the National Institute of Health (NIH) have been studying “winter blues” and a more serious winter depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for over three decades.

SAD symptoms correspond to the shortening of daylight hours and can affect daily functioning. Dr. Matthew Rudorfer, mental health expert, says the main difference between winter blues and SAD is that it affects you for a significant period of time.

Here are some helpful ideas from Kaiser Permanente to help beat the blues:

• Exercise: Experts have found that exercise can work as well as antidepressants to fight depression.

• Check your vitamin D levels: Sunlight is a great source of Vitamin D, which is a nutrient linked to sharper thinking and better emotional health.

• Use light therapy: Anytime you have an opportunity to get some sunlight, take it! Choose work areas near a window or try a lamp that simulates natural light.

• Eat your fruits and veggies: We know that fruits and veggies are vital to our diet year-round. However, deep green and orange fruits and vegetables have nutrients that help boost mood, so try adding broccoli and carrots to your meals.

• Stimulate your senses: A fresh, energizing scented candle or even painting your nails a bright, happy color may help improve your mood.

• Plan a trip: If your budget allows, plan a midwinter visit to a sunny place. Even a few days can help!

And if you find yourself still struggling to smile after several weeks, talk with a health care professional. Although SAD can go away on its own, it can take five months or more, and that is a long time to suffer. According to NIH, SAD is generally quite treatable, and treatment options are always improving.

Emilee Drerup is the family and consumer sciences educator at OSU Extension Hancock County.