Beating the Winter Blues

Wednesday, February 8, 2017 - 09:35

With the cold weather and shorter daylight hours, many people struggle with their mood and behaviour. Less sunlight, reduced access to physical activity and a general feeling of lethargy seem to build on each other to affect behaviours. The cold, dark days of winter may cause shifts in sleep, eating and energy. It may be just a case of the ‘winter blues’ or it may be full on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depression that shifts according to seasonal changes.

Symptoms may include:

  • Problems with concentration;
  • Feeling tired/Low levels of energy;
  • Lack of interest/motivation in pursuing daily activities;
  • Insomnia or oversleeping;
  • Overeating; and
  • Anxiety, irritability or moodiness.

Some symptoms of the winter blues have simple solutions, but some cases of SAD require the assistance of medical professionals. Be sure to check with your health care provider for a full evaluation of your case.

Tips that may be suggested to help you cope:

  • Photo therapy or light therapy – Increasing your exposure to direct sunlight or artificial light sources like sunlamps can help fix off-kilter circadian rhythms and reduce hormone and neurotransmitter abnormalities.
  • Cognitive Therapy – This therapy can help you become aware of your attitude and the way you are thinking and provides exercises to help you change negative thoughts which can lead to depressive moods.
  • Vitamins and/or supplements – low Vitamin D levels have been associated with increased depressive symptoms often associated with lack of exposure to sunlight. Adding Vitamin D to your diet may help boost wellness.
  • Get active - Endorphins are released during exercise, which combine with the brain’s receptors to minimize pain and create positive feelings. Exercise also speeds up metabolism and boosts energy.
  • Get outside – This links back to Vitamin D, and light therapy as discussed above. It also helps boost your mood and encourages getting active as well.
  • Watch what you are eating – Moderate your intake of sugar and carbohydrates which tend to boost your appetite and cause overeating. Try to increase your intake of vegetables, nuts and complex carbohydrates in order to get the right type of energy.
  • Socialize with other people – Try exercising with a friend to reap the benefits of both the social/emotional atmosphere and the energy boost of the physical activity. Getting out and seeing other people boosts energy and helps you engage with the world outside instead of focusing internally.

While the challenges of the winter blues or SAD are real, there are so many things about winter that we can participate in and enjoy. Finding the right combination of activity and therapy can go a long way to help cope with and even prevent SAD.


Beat the Winter Blues by Exercising them Away!

Beating Winter Blues: How to Prevent Seasonal Effective Disorder. University Health News.

Canadian Mental Health Association. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Palkhivala, A. (2016). How Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Can Drive Mood Swings. University Health News Daily.

Sales, B. 6 Tips to Beat the Winter Blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder. Whole Family Health.