Hester Hill Schnipper Photo courtesy of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

MANY OF US DREAD THE ONSET OF WINTER, worrying about the early darkness, the cold, and the snow and ice. People who struggle with seasonal affective disorder—fittingly referred to as SAD for short—have an even tougher time and don’t always appreciate the reasons for their blue mood.

SAD is a type of recurrent depression connected to the change in seasons. As the days get shorter, people typically feel symptoms—which can include a persistent low mood, negative thoughts, changes in eating patterns and reduced energy. The low mood often improves in the spring. Millions of people in the U.S. are affected by this seasonal depression. However, even mild symptoms—which many of us experience as the days get shorter in winter—can be compounded by our concerns about cancer treatment.

If you are among the many people who struggle with SAD or simply feel like you are dragging through the winter months, these suggestions might help to get you through.

1) Recognize that the symptoms of SAD, such as depressed mood, negative thoughts, low energy, fatigue, weight gain and social isolation, also accompany cancer treatment. The combination can make these feelings seem even more burdensome.

2) Talk to your doctor about using a light therapy box, a device that mimics natural outdoor light. Exposure to the light in the morning for 20 minutes to an hour can cause a chemical change in the brain that can lift your mood and ease other symptoms like fatigue and sleeping too much.

3) If symptoms are unbearable, ask your doctors about antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, weighing both the benefits and risks of treatment.

4) Do not criticize yourself about how you are feeling. SAD is a legitimate and real problem, and cancer treatment can intensify these feelings.

5) Establish and keep a daily routine that includes mild- to moderate-intensity exercise, such as walking.

6) Schedule one pleasant activity every day, such as calling a friend or watching a favorite TV show.

7) Keep a gratitude journal and write down one blessing or thing you feel grateful for every day, even if it’s just a cup of tea or a cozy nap.

8) Ask a few close friends or family members to regularly check in on you and to listen if you want to talk.

9) Pay attention to small things that feel good: warm socks, a soft shawl, or curling up under a quilt or blanket to read or watch TV.

10) Embrace the season’s unexpected offerings, including the delight of hot chocolate topped with a marshmallow or a hearty bowl of soup.

Hester Hill Schnipper, a licensed independent clinical social worker, is a breast cancer survivor who served as the manager of oncology social work at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.