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7 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

Updated: Jan 20, 2019

SAD Winter Blues

With shorter days, cold weather, and the post-holiday financial crunch, the stretch of winter between January and March can be rough on our moods. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of clinical depression that occurs regularly, every autumn and winter, when the days get short and dark. While 2-6% of Canadians will experience SAD in their lives, many more (about 15% of Canadians) will experience a less severe version of the disorder, sometimes called the Winter Blues. If you experience seasonal depressive symptoms that include sadness, loss of interest in usual activities, changes in sleep and appetite, loss of energy, or feelings of worthlessness and guilt, talk to your family doctor or a registered psychologist to determine if you have SAD. If you think you have the milder version, here are some tips to get you through to the spring thaw:

1/ Brighten Up. Your environment, that is. Your body is craving the sunshine from months-gone-by. Going outdoors, opening curtains and blinds, and sitting closer to windows may be enough to give your mood a boost. You may also want to talk to your doctor about using a light therapy lamp, which is a special lamp which has been shown to reduce symptoms of SAD. The Mayo Clinic has published some important information about choosing and using a light therapy lamp, which is worth checking out. You can also talk to your doctor or pharmacist about taking Vitamin D supplements.

2/ Chow Down. Eating a variety of healthy foods, according to Canada’s Food Guide (which is about to change- look for a new guide in the next few weeks) will help your physical and mental health. Try to avoid too many sugars and simple carbohydrates which may temporarily boost your mood, but ultimately cause more stress due to the “crash” we feel shortly thereafter.

3/ Work Out. Although the winter weather can make it difficult to get outdoors, braving the elements for a skate at the Oval, or snowshoeing on our trails (did you know HRM recreation centres lend out snow shoes for free?!) is well worth it for the energy and mood boost you’ll get in return. If like me, you’re cold-averse, do some indoor exercise by following a YouTube video or streaming service, or hit the gym.

4/ Tune In. Music can be a powerful mood enhancer, so tune in your radio or streaming service to a station or playlist that features your favourite songs. If you have trouble choosing happier music when your mood is low, try selecting a “chill” or laid back playlist. People tend to want to play music that is “mood congruent” (depressed people tend to choose depressing music, while happy people tend to choose up beat music) but sad music may not boost your mood as much as more uplifting songs. You can make it easier to choose the best music for your mental health by creating a playlist of laid back, calm, yet uplifting songs ahead of time.

5/ Get Cozy. Pull on some fuzzy socks and curl up with a good book. Slip into your coziest sweats or loungewear and play a board game with the family. Make a cup of hot chocolate and work on a jigsaw puzzle. Snuggle with your fur babies (or human babies). Light scented candles and watch a good movie (avoid binge-watching if your mood is low). Call up a friend or relative who lives far away and chat while looking out the window. Do an easy project around the house, then reward yourself with a fragrant warm bath. You don’t have to go outside to enjoy the winter. Pampering yourself in the wintertime with activities that fill the senses raises dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, feel-good hormones that improve mood.

6/ Think Well. Your thoughts are closely tied to your mood, and while sometimes our feelings can seem out of control, we always have influence over our thoughts. Try not to dwell on the parts of winter you find difficult. Think about winter as a time of renewal, growth, and healing. Take it as an opportunity to get yourself physically and emotionally ready to emerge as your best self in the spring.

7/ Reach Out. Socialize with friends with whom you can easily be yourself. This is not the time for those high-maintenance friends who stress you out. Spend face-to-face time with a few of your easiest friends, even if you have to push yourself to do so. I often suggest people set a rule regarding social invitations: “Don’t say no twice in a row” which means if you bailed or said no to your last invitation, try to push yourself to go to the next one, even if you have to make it short. Declining invitations can quickly lead to social isolation, and in the winter months, friends don’t always check in on one another as often. If you’re not getting invitations, initiate a casual get together over coffee or invite a neighbour for a walk (bonus points for multitasking exercise, socializing and getting some sunshine!)

Dr. Tracy Banks is a clinical psychologist practicing in the Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford, Sackville area.

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your psychologist or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical or psychological condition.

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