Six Tips to Beat the Winter Blues

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he Mayo Clinic defines Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons – SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months; sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer. Some common symptoms that people with SAD experience are irritability, tiredness or low energy, oversleeping,  craving foods high in carbohydrates, problems getting along with other people, hypersensitivity to rejection and a heavy “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs.

The specific cause of SAD is still unknown but there are some theories that researchers are exploring. One of the most likely causes is the effect that the winter months have on the circadian rhythm. The reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter may disrupt the body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression. The lack of sunlight also decreases levels of vitamin D which we know is correlated to our mood and the way we feel. The lack of light can also decrease the level of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is our feel good hormone that allows us to feel happiness and joy. Another hormone, melatonin, is also affected. It is released when the amount of light decreases and signals the body that it is time to sleep. This increase in melatonin can make us feel tired, groggy and unmotivated and also affect our sleep patterns.

Here are SIX tips and tricks to start implementing to beat the winter blues

  • Light Therapy – Light therapy, also called phototherapy, mimics natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. It generally starts working within a few days and causes few side effects. Sit in front of the light for 30 minute a day first thing in the morning. This will revamp your circadian rhythm and decrease the amount of melatonin that is secreted throughout the day.
  • Counselling – Counselling can be beneficial to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviours that may be making you feel worse. You can also learn tools to cope with SAD.
  • Get Some Sun – Open your blinds, sit closer to a window at work, take a walk outside on your lunch break. Spend time in the sunshine when available even when it is winter. The most important time of the day to try and get sun exposure is within two hours of waking up. Get as much sun exposure as you can!
  • Exercise – Physical activity has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety leading to an overall improvement in mood. We wish there was a pill to take that would be as beneficial as exercising is for our mood and physical health. Exercising can be as simple as going for a 20 minute walk outside!
  • Take a Vacation –Vacationing in a warmer climate during the winter months can be extremely helpful for someone experiencing SAD. Not only does the exposure to light help regulate your circadian rhythm but also the excitement of a planning a trip can help to improve your mood.
  • Vitamin D – Low levels of Vitamin D are linked to seasonal affective disorder. Talk to your naturopathic doctor about having your vitamin D levels checked in order to find out if supplementation would be beneficial for you.

If you think you are experiencing SAD,  please speak to a naturopathic doctor or medical doctor before starting any new treatments. Know there is help and many different options available!

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