Winter: It’s cold. It’s dark. It’s depressing.
Did I mention it was cold?
Winter can be a difficult time to stay motivated and excited about your day. You wake up in the dark. You go home in the dark. If you live in Iceland, you are probably eating most of your meals in the dark (at this time of year they only get five hours of sunlight a day). These long dark winters can cause us to be quite sad…and when I say sad, I don’t just mean “crying into a tub of ice cream while you watch Reality TV” sad. I mean SAD as in Seasonal Affective Disorder.
According to The Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is “a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons”. The short days and the time we spend indoors can exacerbate depressed feelings. SAD becomes a problem for people starting in the fall and ends after winter.
Here are some other facts about SAD:
About 2 to 3% of Canadians will experience SAD in their lifetime. Another 15% will experience a milder form of SAD that leaves them only slightly depressed
Four out of five people who have seasonal depression are women
The main age of onset of seasonal depression is between 20 and 30 years of age, however symptoms can appear earlier
The prevalence of seasonal depression is anywhere from 0-10 percent of the population, depending on the geographic region
Typically, the further one is from the equator, the more at risk they are for seasonal depression
When you experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, you may feel like your energy was zapped by a snowflake-shaped laser beam that makes you feel moody, and well…sad. If you’ve ever noticed this change in behaviour during the winter months, but didn’t know why, Seasonal Affective Disorder could be the answer to your winter blues.
Now if you’re thinking “oh great, another reason to hate winter”, don’t throw in the towel just yet. There are definitely ways to combat SAD and shed some light (often literally) on the situation. Even if you do not feel you have SAD but still feel the winter blues or stress in daily life, ere are some ways to help keep your spirits up when the temperatures are down.
Shine a light
Yes, we do mean literally! Adding some light to the rapidly darkening days can actually help boost your mood! Make your environment sunnier by opening windows, clipping obstructing tree branches, and adding skylights to help combat SAD. Try to sit close to windows when you’re studying or in your workplace to help kick start warm, positive feelings.
This may seem counterintuitive as the cold season is what’s causing the SADness, but the Vitamin D you absorb from the sunlight can actually help combat depression. Current research tells us that Vitamin D may increase monoamines (a chemical found in your brain), which may help treat depression There is also public research that shows links between depression and a lack of Vitamin D found in the bloodstream. Therefore, more Vitamin D = potentially better mood. So go take a walk, ice skate on an outdoor rink, or feel like a kid again by pulling your old sled out of the garage and tearing down the hill outside your house (though we do warn you that it may be a little less steep than you remember!) Your brain and your body will thank you for your field trip!
Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people can feel a little less moody in the cold winter months. We tend to get more physical activity in the summer because we all love to be outside and walking around to enjoy the hot weather. It is a little more difficult to get physical when all we want to do is curl up in a blanket and watch Love Actually on repeat. Try your local YMCA’s Zumba class. Find a friend and force ask them to be your gym buddy. Hike through the Canadian Tundra (bonus: hiking outside can help you check “absorbing Vitamin D” off your SAD list). Find your favourite way to stay active and stick to it until the snow stops falling and your friends start calling “Woo hoo! Summer!”
Let’s Talk About SAD, Baby!
Talking about our feelings can be an extremely affective way of dealing with depression. A study published in The US National Library of Medicine found that talk therapy proved just as affective as light therapy when dealing with SAD. Don’t hold your feelings inside. Talk about how you feel with friends, family, or a professional counselor! Chances are your friends and family may feel the same way too!
Eat Potatoes (but also other healthy things)
Yes we are serious. Potatoes have high levels of serotonin (another brain chemical, but one that makes you feel happy) and when eaten between 4pm and bedtime, can help raise the serotonin levels in your body. Now besides our personal favourite food group, it is also important to eat a generally balanced diet and avoid most refined sugars or carbs. Sugar causes our energy level to spike and then drop significantly which creates lethargy. By eating healthy and maintaining balanced blood sugars, we can create healthier and happier bodies.
Our final piece of advice for combating SADness? Try to remind yourself that this too, shall pass. Winter is not forever and the “down in the dumps” feeling will melt with the snow. However, if these feelings persist into the spring and summer months, it is important to speak to a parent, friend, or doctor about how you’re feeling – it might be more than just the cold weather blues.
Now we will end this post here, as the Phoenix team is about to go get our daily dose of Vitamin D by making a few Snow Phoenixes.