Don’t Get SAD: 10 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

winter blues seasonal affective disorder

The days are short, the nights are long, and the sun seems out of sight. We might be struggling to leave a warm, cozy bed to greet a cold, gloomy day. Some of us may actually not be able to leave bed.

Every year, two to three percent of Canadians are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of clinical depression related to the lack of sunlight during the winter season. This form of SAD can interfere with your day-to-day functioning, disrupting your personal and professional life. About 15 percent of us experience a milder form of SAD known as the “winter blues”, which, while uncomfortable, is not debilitating.

Diagnosing SAD or the winter blues can be tricky as symptoms are similar to other forms of depression and even bipolar disorder. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, symptoms of SAD can include:

  • Tendency to oversleep
  • Decreased energy
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability0020
  • Change in appetite, in particular a craving for sweet or starchy foods
  • Weight gain
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Feelings of anxiety or despair

While there’s nothing we can do about the weather, we can certainly take steps to prevent or treat these symptoms. Here are 10 ways to give the winter blues the cold shoulder:

1. Get outta here: Bundle up and spend more time outdoors during the day. Even on cloudy days, 20 minutes of exposure to natural light stimulates the pineal gland enough to harmonize your body’s natural clock, promote vitamin D production and uplift your mood and energy.

2. Draw back the curtains: Spring may be for cleaning but winter is for rearranging. Making adjustments like getting sheer drapes or pulling back the ones you have and placing furniture by windows will brighten up your space and your spirit.

3. Lighten up: Daily light therapy (administered by a physician or healthcare professional) exposes you to a specific type of light (full-spectrum white light) and can sometimes eliminate SAD quite quickly. Consult a doctor before this treatment plan.

4. Get moving: Physical activity releases good-feeling chemicals like endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine, giving you an instant boost. And 20 minutes of brisk walking daily is all you need. Better yet, embrace the elements and make a snowman, go tobogganing, skating or skiing. Hurry, winter won’t last forever!

5. Keep it green: Don’t let winter stop you from creating a Garden of Eden of your own.  Connecting to nature can be deeply therapeutic, and keeping lush plants in your home is a great way to keep that connection when you’re stuck inside. So take a trip to a local nursery and fill your home with plants that thrive indoors, like aloe, ferns, peace lily, peperomia, Chinese evergreen, Englis ivy and ficus.

6. Chuckle away: Laughter releases happy chemicals and has an uplifting and contagious effect on those around. So when you are indoors, share a joke with a colleague, watch a funny video or do something so silly that you can’t help but crack up with belly hurting laughter!

7. Eat lighter, feel brighter: First, work at resisting cravings for heavy and junk foods loaded with empty carbs and sugars that can zap your energy. Instead, nourish yourself with plentiful and colourful fruits and vegetables, balanced with whole grains, lean proteins, nuts and seeds. Also minimize caffeine and alcohol intake, since caffeine can cause anxiety, muscle tension and gastro-intestinal issues while alcohol can worsen low mood. Opt for caffeine-free herbal teas and six to eight glasses of water to stay soothed and hydrated.

8. Get Mother Nature’s help: There is some evidence that an herb called St. John’s Wort may help ease SAD symptoms. Be sure to check with your doctor before you incorporate this into your “beat the blues” plan, as the herb can interact with other medications, especially birth control and anti-depressants.

9. Balance your chakras: Chakras are energy centers in our bodies that process and radiate life force energy, often called prana or chi. When we feel down, the chakras become slow and sluggish. To get them up and running smoothly again, practice daily yoga and go for regular energy healing treatments like Reiki and therapeutic touch.

10. Go within: Like the bare winter trees, you can also look to nature for inspiration and take this time as an opportunity to meditate, retreat, rest and rejuvenate. Before you know it, spring will be near and you will emerge refreshed and replenished, ready to embrace bright, beautiful days.

Sometimes, even taking these measures may not be enough. If you try the above steps and are still experiencing symptoms of SAD, talk to your doctor to discuss a treatment plan that will work best for you.

Remember, each season brings its own gifts and opportunities. Making the best of a long Canadian winter may require perseverance, but it’s possible to enjoy it so much that you’ll actually be SAD when it’s over!

To learn more about Seasonal Affective Disorder and find community resources and support, visit the Canadian Mental Health Association’s website at or contact their Toronto branch at 416-789-7957.

Posted in Lioness Women’s Club on January 17, 2013


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