Alleviate the Winter Blues or SAD

It’s early in the year and you don’t feel like yourself. January is for new beginnings and resolutions, right? One look at your newsfeed and it’s peppered with #NewYearNewMe hashtags that make you question whether your own energy levels are up to snuff. To someone suffering from the Winter Blues the New Year is a reminder of a long road ahead.

For those suffering from the Winter Blues, the cold months, and than lack of light discourage many people from making and keeping plans. When your couch seems more inviting than the gym, fatty, and sugary foods are more comforting than mom’s homemade soup. When even Netflix and Chill seems too ambitious, you need to ask yourself if you’re just feeling the post-holiday hangover or the Winter Blues.

Winter Blues

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and the Winter Blues are terms used interchangeably but are not quite the same. People refer to the Winter Blues when mild but manageable symptoms occur like tiredness and grogginess during the cold months. However, by definition you may be suffering from SAD if it reoccurs for at least two consecutive winters, with no external physical or emotional stressors that would otherwise explain the changes in your behaviour or mood. A big indicator to determine if you’re experiencing SAD or the Winter Blues is if your symptoms start to disappear come Spring.

Per the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA): 15% of us experience symptoms of Winter Blues whereas 2-3% of the general population experience the more severe SAD. The underlying mechanism is unclear but research suggests disruptions in circadian rhythms could explain the phenomenon and as well as seeing correlation between light exposure and SAD. Those living in Northern countries, women, and shift workers tend to be at greater risk of SAD due to decreased levels of exposure to natural light.

From Autumn to Spring, when the sun sets earlier and days become shorter, people with the Winter Blues will show shifts in their mood and behaviors in relations to changes in seasons.

Personally, I am affected by the Winter Blues every year. Unlike others years, this year it started earlier than normal; November. Some of the symptoms I experience (and are common to both SAD and the Winter Blues) included a change in appetite, weight gain, craving fatty or sugary foods, tendency to oversleep and feelings of grogginess. This combined with my new workspace (working from home) and aloof routine left me feeling lost and unproductive. It was a perfect winter storm in my head that I felt throughout my entire body.

I would wake up an hour later, stumble to my desk, and snack all day long. Of course, my emotions influenced my behaviors and sooner than later I was skipping CrossFit, not contacting friends, and eating more than usual without feeling satiety. It wasn’t until many conversations with friends and journaling did I realize I was standing in my own way. Yes, the heavy rain that poured without a break and the dismal light was a challenge but I needed to remind myself that the same techniques I tell clients as a nutritional coach apply to me, right now. Exercise, hydration, stress management, and proper nutrition are all pieces to a healthier body and mind.The Winter Blues come from a combination of factors and treatment does as well.

It has been very important for me to take my own advice, and here is some for you as well:

1. Light

Exposure to light does wonders for those suffering from the Winter Blues. You can increase your exposure to light by opening up your blinds or curtains in your home, doing your work close to windows, trimming the bushes and hedges around your home that may cast a shade in your space. Better yet, go outside and soak up some vitamin D. Bundle up, go for a walk or just eat your lunch in space.

2. Activity

Often, the last thing you feel you have the energy to do is go to the gym but time and time again we are shown that exercise can have a huge impact on your mood and actually increase energy! Movement and exercise increase serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins all proven to increase mood.

3. Diet

A sensible diet is key. There is an increasing amount of interest and research happening around nutrition and neuropsychiatry but for now, I think it is safe to say that by monitoring your diet and incorporating lean meats, leafy greens, multiple servings of fruit and vegetables, omega – 3 fatty acids and some complex carbohydrates could benefit everyone. (We will explore specific foods in next month’s blog).

4. Meditate

Meditation has been gaining a lot of ground as an additional form of therapy in preventative medicine, the focus on breathing and letting negative thoughts go can help relieve stress and anxiety. A great place to start is here:

5. Plan out your day

If you are aiming to exercise that day put it into your calendar. If you’re trying to drink 8 cups of water a day, log in on your whiteboard. Visual and tactile feedback of recording your accomplishment can improve your mind’s desire to continue with those accomplishments.

6. Seek Help

Only a trained physician can distinguish between whether you are experiencing the Winter Blues, SAD, or something more serious. If your symptoms are getting in the way of your job and relationships, you should contact your practitioner and reach out to your loved ones for support.

If you feel any of the symptoms I’ve mentioned, feel free to reach out to me. I’d be happy to help with #2 or #3 if we determine it would help!

~ Stefanie

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