Beverly Beuermann-King, CSP, Stress and Wellness Specialist
The alarm clock goes off, but you would rather roll over and continue sleeping. Sometimes, there are days that you could literally sleep the day away. You get up, look in the mirror and you feel dumpy and grumpy. You go to the cupboard and instead of something healthy to get you started, you search for one of those sugar cereals or you give in and head right for a chocolate bar. You are not sure what is happening, but there are days when life is definitely more of a challenge.
Reportedly 65% of the Canadian population notices a difference in their level of mood and energy in the fall and winter compared to the sunny days of summer. This decrease in mood and energy colours the way in which we handle the other areas of our life that compete for our energy and attention.
What causes the winter blues?
Research into the direct causes of the winter blues is ongoing. However, the more severe form, called Seasonal Affective Disorder, is thought to be related to seasonal variations in light which negatively impact the production of neurotransmitters and hormones that affect our sleep, mood and appetite and impact around 2-3% of us depending on where we live.
What are the symptoms related to the winter blues?
The winter blues are usually characterized by varying degrees of sadness, anxiety and
energy. Symptoms may also include irritability, a tendency to oversleep, cravings for sweet or starchy foods and possibly weight gain. Winter blues differ from SAD in that the symptoms do not last as long and do not interfere significantly with everyday living.
How do you combat the winter blues?
Since the winter blues may be a result of a lack of light, some of the coping strategies used are to increase our exposure to light.
Spend more time outdoors during the day – at least 20 minutes twice a day. It doesn't matter if it is a glorious winter morning or a dreary cloudy afternoon.
Arrange your indoor environment so that it receives more natural light. Move your furniture so that you sit near a window. I just moved my office and now it has two patio doors to let it light. Certainly changes my perspective.
Install full spectrum light bulbs to lamps and lights
Additional stress busters can reduce the winter blues.
Eat regularly and nutritiously
Get regular amounts of sleep
Exercise – especially if it can take you outdoors
Deal with stressful situations effectively
Take a sunny southern vacation
By increasing your exposure to light and monitoring your diet, sleep patterns and exercise levels you will be able to maintain your health, increase your energy and combat the winter blues. And if you are finding it tough, reach out to our CAPS Peer Support Program. They can provide guidance, friendship and support that may help you over the winter blues hump.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is more severe and longer lasting than the winter blues. It may involve more difficulty concentrating and irritability, deeper feelings of anxiety and despair and possibly thoughts of death and suicide. The symptoms of SAD generally occur between the months of October and April. Some people will be affected for that entire period, while others may only notice a change for a couple of weeks or a month. If you feel the more severe symptoms associated with SAD for more than a couple of you should seek professional help, especially if you find yourself thinking about death and suicide.