Winter depression, also called a SAD or seasonal affective disorder, is depression that occurs during the winter months. It is estimated that approximately 15% of the Canadian population experiences mild symptoms of SAD yearly. Moreover, did you know that women are four times more likely to be affected than men? The symptoms of SAD are similar to those of major depression, but they are triggered by factors such as the change in the amount of daylight during the winter months.
Several theories suggest that a reduction in daylight can lead to a disruption of circadian rhythms and a decrease in serotonin levels, which can result in feelings of depression. Additionally, it has been suggested that a lack of vitamin D, which is produced by the body when exposed to sunlight, may also contribute to the development of SAD.
In order to manage winter depression effectively, it is vital first to understand the symptoms and to seek treatment if needed. Some common symptoms of SAD include:
Experiencing sadness or feelings of hopelessness
Experiencing a loss of interest in daily activities that were once considered enjoyable
Experiencing an increase in fatigue and sleepiness
Changes in appetite and weight
Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
Although winter depression can be challenging, there are several effective ways to manage it. Here are ways that can help with the symptoms of winter depression.
Light therapy: This therapy involves exposing the eyes to bright light, resulting in the regulation of the natural balance of hormones in the body. Light treatment includes a special light box that emits bright light and may be effective in helping with symptoms of SAD. This therapy could be considered effective for about 30 minutes daily, preferably in the morning, and consistently for best results.
Exercise: Exercise is one of the most effective ways to manage winter depression. We know that exercise releases endorphins, the body's natural mood-boosting chemicals. Research suggests that even moderate exercise, such as a daily walk, can help to improve mood and energy levels.
Vitamin D supplements: Vitamin D, or the sunshine vitamin, is produced by the body when exposed to sunlight. During the winter, getting enough vitamin D from sunlight can be challenging, so taking a vitamin D supplement is advisable to help boost levels.
Diet: There's no doubt that a well-balanced diet has a crucial role to play in both physical and mental well-being. Including a diet that allows you to eat a healthy, balanced food group can help manage winter depression. During the winter months, you could perhaps consider focusing on foods high in vitamin D, such as salmon, mushrooms, and eggs. Moreover, avoiding foods high in sugar and caffeine may be particularly beneficial as it helps improve mood.
Mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Mindfulness and relaxation techniques, for instance, meditation and yoga, have been effective in reducing stress and improving mood. Perhaps you could include these activities in your daily routine? These techniques have been known to help calm the mind and promote relaxation and well-being.
Social support: Social support is vital for managing winter depression. It's helpful to spend time with friends and family. Moreover, participating in social activities is also beneficial; volunteering can boost mood and provide a sense of purpose. You could perhaps consider reaching out to a doctor, therapist, or mental health professional if you are experiencing symptoms of winter depression.
Psychotherapy: If your symptoms are worsening or you are struggling to get through your day, it could be helpful to talk with a mental health professional who can help identify negative thought patterns and behaviours that may contribute to depression. This can be particularly helpful in managing SAD.
Winter depression can be a challenging and debilitating condition, but there are several effective ways to manage it. Light therapy, exercise, vitamin D supplements, a healthy diet, mindfulness and relaxation techniques, and social support can all help to improve mood and reduce the symptoms of winter depression. Taking these steps makes it possible to effectively manage winter depression and enjoy the winter months more easily. If you are experiencing symptoms of winter depression, it is advisable that you think about reaching out to a doctor, therapist, or mental health professional for support.
If you're looking for help in managing depression and anxiety, working with a psychologist might be helpful for you. At Ward & Associates Psychological Services, we offer counselling in Sherwood Park. We specialize in individual counselling for adults, teens, and children and couples counselling and trauma counselling for first responders. We also offer online therapy for clients residing in Alberta. Contact us to learn more about our services or to book an appointment.