The winter months mean shorter days, freezing temperatures, and driveways in need of shovelling. For many Canadians, this translates into lack of motivation, fatigue, and depressed mood.
Mild winter blues are common. But between 2 and 6% of Canadians will experience a more severe form of weather-related depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly abbreviated as SAD) during their lifetime. The cause? Sensitivity to the lack of sunlight, which disrupts the body’s circadian rhythms and alters the chemistry of the brain.
Symptoms of SAD can include:
- Oversleeping — sometimes an increase of 2 to 4 hours per day
- Low energy
- Intense food cravings
- Weight gain
- Withdrawal from social life
- Depressed mood occurring over at least two consecutive winters
Whether you think you may be experiencing SAD, or a milder form of winter blues, here are some tips to help you overcome the winter doom and gloom until spring comes again.
Take up a winter sport
As the saying goes: If you can’t beat them, join them. Or in this case: If you can’t avoid it, embrace it.
Winter provides many unique benefits for those willing to take advantage of it instead of hibernating. Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, skating, tobogganing – the list of fun winter activities is plentiful. Get outside and get moving. The exercise and exposure to sunlight will stimulate the production of mood-elevating endorphins and vitamin D.
Head to the gym
If you’re not super keen on the idea of winter sports, joining a gym (or working out at home) can provide many of the same benefits.
Any activity that involves exercise is scientifically demonstrated to boost happiness. Not to mention, you’ll be able to work on your summer beach body.
You’ve heard it before, but it’s still as true as ever. What you eat can have a profound impact on your sense of well-being.
Ditch the processed foods, refined sugars, and starches for fruit, veggies, and whole grains. These healthy foods provide your body (and mind) with the nutrients it needs, stabilizing your blood sugar and energy levels.
Up your intake of Vitamin D and Omega-3s
While you’re revamping your diet, be sure to include foods rich in Vitamin D (fish oils, cheese, eggs) and Omega-3s (flax seeds, walnuts, salmon).
Vitamin D deficiency is linked to many health risks in addition to depression, while Omega 3s can help regulate optimal levels of feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Consider taking supplements or a multivitamin if your diet is low in these essential nutrients.
Clear out the clutter
Creating order in your living space can contribute greatly to peace of mind. If you’re going to be spending more time indoors anyway, why not take full advantage by doing a bit of pre-spring cleaning?
Get rid of those old clothes you haven’t worn in years, reorganize your desk, tidy up the garage, and clean out the fridge. A clutter-free home leads to a clutter-free mind.
Try light therapy
It’s difficult to get enough sun in the winter when you’re cooped up in the office all day and dusk is already falling by the time you leave.
Light therapy, which uses light boxes emitting full-spectrum light similar to sunlight, has been shown to be effective in people suffering from SAD. Typically, patients must sit in front of the light box for 30 minutes each day to get the full benefit. As with any form of health intervention, it’s best to ask your doctor before purchasing a light box. Read more about light therapy.
Improve your sleep patterns
Sleep is a tricky thing. Paradoxically, both too little and too much can result in tiredness and irritability.
Aim to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night, and try to keep your bedtime and waking time consistent. Normalizing your sleep patterns will make you feel more energized and ready to face the day.
Even if you’re doing everything right, it’s natural to feel down in the dumps from time to time. Often, the best solution for those days is a healthy dose of T-L-C for Y-O-U.
Plan a weekend trip, a day at the spa, a party with friends, or a special outing to the theatre or a sporting event. This will give you something to look forward to during those blah days.
Reach out to your social support group
It’s difficult to overstate the role social support plays in happiness. When you’re feeling low, reach out to your friends, family, co-workers, and neighbours to plan dinner outings, phone calls, or coffee dates.
Never hesitate to ask for encouragement from those closest to you when you need it – that’s what they’re there for.
Plan an escape
In spite of eating right, sleeping well, and working out, sometimes the winter just gets to be too much. Taking off on vacation to some place warm may be just the thing you need to recharge your batteries (and your Vitamin D levels).
It’s amazing what a week or two in the Caribbean can do to make the winter more bearable. Just make sure you get travel insurance in case anything goes wrong while you’re away.
Like death and taxes, Canadian winters are a guarantee. Don’t spend four months of the year suffering when you can take some simple steps to elevate your mood.
Spring will be here in a few short weeks. Until then keep healthy, get as much sun as you can, and stay happy!