With cloudiest January on record, Minnesotans work to shake winter blues

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Minnesotans push through seasonal depression every winter. But the lack of sunshine in recent weeks isn’t helping those battling the blues.

“I definitely feel like SAD has taken a hold on me this year,” said Gayathri Dileepin of Lino Lakes. “Especially in comparison to previous years.”

It has been the cloudiest January since records began in 1963.

“I would say the weather usually affects me some,” said Alyssa Kong of St. Louis Park. “I would like some sun if we could get some sun.”

Dr. Michael Howell, with M Health Fairview and the University of Minnesota Medical School, said seasonal affective disorder (SAD) isn't unusual.

“It’s incredibly common and too many people think of the winter blahs as just being related to the cold and that is a very small part of that,” Howell said. “Any time it's as cloudy as it is right now, expect that there are people out there struggling.”

He told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that sunlight jump-starts our circadian rhythm and tells our bodies to get up in the morning. During the winter, however, it’s dark in the morning and days are shorter.

“People can feel more depressed, less joyful, have more sluggishness, less energy,” Howell said.

He recommended a couple of ways to help SAD symptoms.

“Do take as much opportunity as you can to be outside in the light,” he said.

Light therapy boxes can also help. He said they provide exposure to 10,000 lux of light, which mimics sunlight.

“Turn it on and just get used to getting bathed in that light,” said Dr. Howell. “As you're checking your email in the morning, or texting, or having breakfast, or watching the morning news — just have it within a few feet just like any other light.”

He recommends using it for at least 30 minutes per day. Users should not look directly into the light.

It’s a product one Minnesotan swears by.

Circadian Optics’ founder Amber Leong appeared on ABC’s "Shark Tank" in October.

“Light is vital for our physical and mental health,” she said. “The lack of light was really affecting my health.”

She landed a deal for her light therapy products.

Others improve SAD symptoms by taking a trip to warmer climates. While some, like Kong, are trying to find the silver lining.

“At least we're not in the polar vortex like we were last year. We're happy about that,” she said. “I would say embracing the weather like going skiing, snowshoeing, I feel like that helps.”