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Coping with the “Winter Blues”

Coping with the Winter Blues

Crystal Nicol By Crystal Nicol,
Director of Delivery, Strategy and Development at Eagle

The days get shorter, the nights longer and the weather is considerably colder. Canadian winters are long. It’s not surprising that many Canadians experience the Winter Blues. It’s particularly difficult when routines have been disrupted and social contact reduced, winter may seem even less enjoyable than usual.

According to EverydayHealth.com, less sunlight can affect the circadian rhythm, the body’s biological clock that governs certain brain wave activity and hormone production. I am not a huge winter fan, so I have to work extra hard on my mental health during the colder months.

A research study in the January 2020 issue of the Journal of Affective Disorders found that higher levels of depressive symptoms were reported in winter months compared to summer months. Youth are especially at risk of seasonal effects on mood, with young people reporting more depressive symptoms in the winter months such as lack of interest in regular activities, trouble concentrating, feeling slow or fidgety, as well as sleep and appetite difficulties.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) suggests the following six tips to help beat the winter blues:

  1. Spend time in nature. Bundle up and get outside. Compared to an urban setting, walking in nature has been shown to reduce anger, improve positive affect, and lower blood pressure.
  2. Maximize exposure to sunlight. Arrange indoor environments to receive maximum sunlight. Keep curtains open during the day and move furniture to sit near a window.
  3. Exercise. Physical activity relieves stress, builds energy and increases mental well-being. Make a habit of taking a daily walk. The activity and increased exposure to natural light can raise spirits.
  4. Keep a healthy diet. Seasonal variations in mood can make you crave sugary foods and simple carbohydrates, such as pasta and white bread. Opt for complex carbohydrates as a better choice. Foods such as oatmeal, whole grain bread, brown rice, and bananas can boost your feel-good serotonin levels without the subsequent sugar crash.
  5. Practice daily relaxation techniques. Try deep breathing, yoga or meditation to help manage stress, reduce negative emotions such as anger and fear, and boost feelings of joy and well-being.
  6. Reach out for help. The winter blues differs from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which affects about two percent of the population and is a serious form of depression. If you are unsure of whether you are experiencing SAD or the winter blues, ask your doctor.

I’ve also found that taking Vitamin D has especially helped my mood and energy during the winter months. Since we get our vitamin D from the sun, it’s a good idea to take a supplement, especially since low vitamin D is correlated with depression. According to Everyday Health, certain foods are good sources of vitamin D, including cod liver oil, swordfish, salmon, tuna, milk, yogurt, sardines, eggs, and cereals fortified with vitamin D.

Remember, if your mood seems to be sinking into darkness and gloom along with the freezing cold temperatures, you are not alone. If you’re experiencing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder/Winter Blues and nothing seems to help, check in with your doctor or a mental-health professional.

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