If you have the winter blues, you’re not alone. Darker days combined with the effects of the pandemic can make any of us more vulnerable to changes in our mood.
While everyone’s mood can be affected by the weather, an estimated 2%-6% of Canadians experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as Seasonal Depression or Winter Depression.
A milder form of SAD may be experienced by another 15% of Canadians in their lifetime (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2020). SAD is typically seen in Fall and Winter and can last four to five months.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is believed to be brought on by less exposure to sunlight, and a change in our circadian rhythm, which may cause a biochemical imbalance in the brain (American Psychiatric Association, 2020).
It is more prevalent in countries that are located further from the equator, and therefore, have less sunlight. Research has shown that there also may be a genetic component to SAD, and that it’s typically seen more in adults than children, and in more women than men.
Symptoms of SAD range from mild to severe and are similar to those of depression.
The primary symptom is a persistent sadness which also may include changes in appetite and weight, cravings for carbohydrates, sleep problems, feeling fatigued even if you are oversleeping, social withdrawal, loss of interest in work or hobbies, feeling useless, guilty or hopeless, irritability and trouble with concentration or decision making.
If you struggle with your mood during the dark winter months, there are treatments available. One of the most common and effective therapies is light therapy, also known as phototherapy (UBC, 2020).
Light boxes with a strength of at least 10,000 lux are recommended to help get that daily dose of UV. The UBC Mood Disorders Centre has compiled some good information on light therapy, and there are many affordable lights available online.
Other lifestyle habits that can help ease SAD include eating a well-balanced diet, and exercising for 30 minutes a day, five times a week which has been shown to have an antidepressant effect.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in which clients learn how to identify and challenge negative thought patterns and behaviours and replace them with healthier ones can also be effective for treating depression and SAD.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (2020) recommends the following to ease SAD:
Incorporating other practices into your routine, such as mindfulness meditation, massage, aromatherapy, and yoga can also complement your Winter wellness plan.
Weather related mood issues often peak in January and February, so pay attention to your warning signs and stressors and make a plan to be proactive, or to make changes if they worsen.
American Psychiatric Association. (2020). Seasonal affective disorder.
Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder
Canadian Mental Health Association (2020). Seasonal affective disorder.
Retrieved from https://cmha.bc.ca/documents/seasonal-affective-disorder-2/
The University of British Columbia. (2020). How to get a light device.