Beat the Winter Blues

Are you feeling down in the dumps by the end of January-after months of cold, grey skies and snow, snow and more snow? You may have the winter blues, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Here’s help. 

Feeling tired, irritable, or down in the dumps this time of year? It’s estimated that 15% of Canadians experience these symptoms of winter blues. “It’s a combination of lack of sunlight, less activity, and less socializing that is probably most responsible,” says Mark Pottier, a psychologist in Yarmouth, N.S.

Looking to lift your spirits? A few simple tips can make a big difference to your frame of mind.

Get on Your Feet

We’re often less active in wintertime. Yet exercise is a known mood enhancer, raising the brain’s levels of serotonin and endorphin. “If people hate the cold, there’s no point forcing them out to go skiing,” says family physician Ajantha Jayabarathan in Halifax. “But if you like to watch TV, you can walk on the treadmill.” Try to include 30 to 60 minutes of activity in your day.

Snack Sensibly

“When people want an energy boost they think of carbohydrates,” says Regina public health nutritionist Jenny Okroj. But simple carbs will raise your blood sugars fast, and then just as quickly crash you down. “Once they drop, you can feel very tired.” Choose complex carbohydrates instead, like whole-wheat crackers and multigrain breads. Include protein with your snack to feel more alert.

See the Light

Exposure to natural light or a bright artificial light source has been shown to be as effective as medication in treating some people with seasonal affective disorder. Invest in a light therapy lamp and aim for 5,000 to 10,000 lux per day. Morning is best, so it won’t interfere with sleep. “You’ll produce more melatonin,” says Dr. Jayabarathan. “It will keep you feeling quite well right through those dark times.”

Be Social

“Many people socialize less throughout the winter months,” points out Pottier. But isolating yourself can only worsen those depressive symptoms. Pottier recommends finding reasons to get out of the house, like joining a hobby club or taking a class. Even planning a visit to out-of-town friends – if that luxury tropical vacation isn’t feasible – can help break up the winter.

Watch What You Drink

Avoid alcohol, which is linked to the winter blues. And watch your intake of caffeine. It can affect your sleep and make you feel groggy and grumpy. On the other hand, make sure you’re drinking enough water. “Dehydration can lead to fatigue,” says Okroj. “Have water handy, and drink it through the day.”

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