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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at ICU (Japan) chapter.

After a blink of an eye, the winter semester has already started– and that means that we’re making the big leap from autumn to winter. For some of us, a change in season is no big deal. But it can also be a source of stress for many others. As the cold weather creeps upon us, it also means that a dreaded phenomenon that many of us (including me) suffer from is sneaking up on us as well: seasonal affective disorder.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year.” An aptly presented acronym, SAD, is also a pretty common type of depression– nearly 1 in 20 adults in the United States suffer from it. While it can vary for each individual, symptoms can include a persistent feeling of sadness, low energy, sleeping issues, and many more. But remember, it’s important to talk about mental health symptoms with a health practitioner. 

While no one is completely sure of the exact cause of SAD, it is often linked to the shorter days that are associated with the fall and winter seasons. Sunlight is so influential for us: it can affect melatonin and serotonin production and our circadian rhythm. However, having winter blues is completely normal, given that our hypothalamus function depends on sunlight. But it’s also important to know that the winter blues do not equate to a case of SAD. 

Food… for SAD? 

As the day gets shorter and the daily treks back home are surrounded by darkness, it’s difficult to find light in our day-to-day life, both figuratively and literally. Whether you simply suffer from a case of the winter blues to a case of seasonal affective disorder, it’s always beneficial to make small lifestyle changes to help lighten things up. But realistically, many of us have schedules that are filled to the brim during this season. One of the easiest ways to help with SAD symptoms is to switch up your diet a little. Surprisingly, your diet is extremely influential in maintaining mental wellbeing. Here’s a list of some foods that can help lift the winter blues:

Green, Leafy Vegetables

Green veggies such as bok choy, spinach, kale, etc. offer nutrients that can help with brain function. B vitamins, which these vegetables are rich in, have been found to help with lowering stress levels and lifting one’s mood. Salad isn’t your thing? That’s doable– you can turn them into chips, sneak them into average meals, or even turn them into desserts.


Vitamin b-12, which is often found in animal-derived protein, is a key nutrient in stabilizing mood. Including an ample amount of animal-based proteins, including dairy and eggs, is important. A study found that the number of people affected by SAD was four times higher in vegetarians compared to non-vegetarians. But to the vegans out there, don’t worry– there are non-animal product options that do offer this specific vitamin. Shiitake mushrooms, nori, and fortified foods are accessible options for vegans. 

Vitamin D

As a result of the dip in sunlight during the winter season, the body isn’t receiving enough vitamin D. There’s a misconception that vitamin D is derived from only sunlight, and can be found in various foods. Foods such as salmon, canned tuna, egg yolks, and mushrooms are rich in this nutrient. Similar to vitamin B-12, many foods are fortified with vitamin D, such as orange juice and cereal. 

Dark Chocolate

Chocolate surprisingly is scientifically proven to help you feel better. Cacao is rich in polyphenols, which is a type of antioxidant that can improve mood. But unfortunately, sugary chocolate cake and ice cream won’t cut it. Sugar can cause a crash that does the opposite effect that polyphenols are supposed to cause. However, chocolate bars with a high cacao percentage are especially rich in polyphenols. 

The bottom line

A diet that consistently includes foods that aid SAD may help one cope with symptoms. But in the end, the seasonal affective disorder can be overwhelming for one to handle and is a medical disorder. It’s easy to feel isolated during a chilly season that forces us to be indoors for most of the time. But remember, it also can be tremendously helpful to talk to somebody. 

The ICU Counseling Office has both in-person and online services that are offered to all students. Their site can be found here.

Befrienders Worldwide and TELL Japan are non-profit organizations that offer support services for those in emotional distress.

Befrienders Worldwide: Their Japanese site can be found here. Their English site can be found here. Their hotline number is: 03-5286-9090

TELL Japan: This organization offers an online chat service and a hotline. Their site can be found here. Their hotline number is: 03-5774-0992






Hina Matsumoto

ICU (Japan) '25

Hina is a freshman who is unsure about her major at International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan.