Living in Wisconsin at the time, Browne said the cold temperatures, heavy snow and fewer hours of sunlight would prevent her from leaving the house.
"I couldn't get out of bed, I wouldn't want to talk to anyone, I'd have crying spells. It was like my brain was wrapped in cotton batting," says Browne.
But then when the sun returned for a few days, or in the spring, Browne says she returned to her cheerful self. At first Browne attributed her malaise to the hassles of being a working mom and living amidst lots of snow, but her therapist started seeing a pattern.
"She remembered an uncharacteristically spring-like day a few days before and asked how I'd felt on that day. It had been an awesome day for me," Browne says. "She kept running through days that were sunny; it was really a process of elimination."
The 40-something media consultant was diagnosed by her doctor with seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression that goes well beyond just the "winter blues.'' The symptoms and effects are similar to depression but only reveal themselves in the fall and winter months.
"You'll start slowing down, have difficulty waking up, difficulty concentrating, you'll start craving sweets and starches," says psychiatrist and SAD expert Dr. Norman Rosenthal, author of "Winter Blues,'' one of the first books to describe seasonal affective disorder.
"You'll notice I didn't mention depression," adds Rosenthal. "The mood thing is quite a late development in the sequence, so it's important for people to keep an eye out for these early signs so it doesn't develop into depression."
According to Mental Health America, women suffer from SAD three times more often then men, as do those in colder climates and people who work for extended periods without sunlight or work the night shift.
Sometimes just a change of scenery can work wonders.
Browne, who has since moved to the much sunnier Carmel Valley, Calif., recalls a work flight she used to regularly take from Chicago to Phoenix. "When I'd get off the plane I would transfer into a different human being to the point that people would actually notice and comment."
Treating SAD often combines a routine of light therapy, exercise and Vitamin D; more severe sufferers may be prescribed an antidepressant. But there are many natural remedies that can help alleviate SAD - whether you suffer from the condition or are experiencing general winter blues.
Let There Be Light
The number 1 therapy most doctors recommend for SAD is exposure to sunlight or full-spectrum light (which simulates bright sunlight).
"Ideally, even in the cold, you should try to find a way to get outside - even if it's snowshoeing," says Dr. Mark Hyman, author of "The Ultramind Solution," who has treated patients for SAD in his New York practice. Visiting a brightly lit garden store or a public atrium filed with light and live greenery can help as well.
But if you don't live in a place where you can easily soak up the rays, you can purchase full-spectrum light bulbs at your hardware store (a minimum of 2,500-lux is required for treatment). For a stronger effect, companies like Light Therapy Products sell a variety of light boxes, dawn simulators and even head visors that you can wear around the house.
Hyman says that sitting under the lights for just 20 minutes a day can make a strong impact on your mood. If you're having trouble sleeping, a common problem with SAD, try a dawn simulator, which can help establish a more regular routine.
"You should move from one illuminated space to another," adds Rosenthal, who also suffers from SAD. "For example I have my dawn simulator come on in the morning, the light box come on before I even wake up, so it's there when I go to have breakfast."
While these products aren't inexpensive (many of the products Light Therapy sells are in the US$175 to US$300 range), SAD sufferers claim great benefits. Browne says she owns three light boxes. "I'll even go to the sun-tanning booth for five minutes - dermatologists be damned. It helps.''
Your Daily Dose of D
Another way to simulate the sun's benefits is to take a regular dose of Vitamin D. Mary Sahs, a 62-year-old Michigan-based Naturopath, says she has suffered SAD for 30 years.
"This is my first winter to try a vitamin D supplement and it made a significant difference in my mood," says Sahs.
Our bodies produce Vitamin D when the sun's rays hit our skin; it's also found in many dietary sources such as fish, eggs, fortified milk, and cod liver oil.
Hyman recommends Vitamin D supplements, and taking one to three milligrams of Melatonin at night. But with both Vitamin D and Melatonin check with your doctor first about timing, dosage and whether it's right for you.
Work It Out
"To me exercise is the salvation," says Browne, "But I need to exercise to the point of sweating."
A study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that just 20 minutes of sustained, vigorous exercise a week can help reduce depression. Walking around the block, scrubbing the kitchen, dancing to your favourite songs - as long as it induces breathlessness - can elevate your endorphins and up your mood.
Watch the Carbs
Some doctors say that their SAD patients have a particular taste for carbohydrates.
"If it's a rainy day like last weekend I find myself wanting to make major casseroles," says Browne. In the colder weather, our brain sends a "survival" signal to our body to eat and gain weight, insulating us from the chill - carbs are an easy way to load up and feel satisfied.
"But I try to make nutritious comfort food. I've learned to switch to English muffins rather than loaves of sourdough."
Opt for healthier carbs like vegetables, whole grains, and fruits which will help keep you energized.
Mix & Mingle
Dr. Janet Taylor, a mental health community expert on BeWell.com, notes the importance of social interaction.
"You might be inclined to be socially isolated, but interacting with people, friends and family can really help create a support network," she says.
If you can't get out and about try reconnecting with old friends on a social network like Facebook or joining online communities like BeWell or Daily Strength.org where people gather around particular health topics.
Be Good To Yourself
Rather than seeing herself as a S.A.D. sufferer, Browne calls herself a "solar-powered person." She wears hot colours like yellows and oranges.
Even her blog - blog.guruofnew.com - is designed in bright golds and oranges.
"The A No. 1 thing I've done is not to beat myself up and recognize that there are some things I can control and others I can't," she says. "Moving to California certainly helped, and I just watch the signs."