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Mind & Mood Happiness

Are You Feeling the Winter Blues? Find out How to Beat Them!

Winter scenery in forest

For some, winter is the most glorious time of year. The crisp air, the pretty snow, figure eights on skating rinks, followed by steaming hot chocolate with little marshmallows melting into a gooey layer of sweetness. #bliss

However, this is not how many Canadians see winter. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, an estimated 15 per cent of Canadians experience the “winter blues”: crankiness, fatigue, decreased energy and feelings of anxiety. Winter blues are thought to be a mild form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression, affecting approximately one to ten per cent of the general population during the winter season, according to a study published in the Journal of Psychology Research and Behavior Management. Everyone’s severity of the winter blues is different, but if you’re having feelings of depression for at least two winter seasons, you might actually have SAD. Although there are ways to manage your winter blues, it’s important to seek advice and get help from a healthcare professional if you’re experiencing SAD or symptoms of depression.

So what’s behind these feelings that make it near impossible to drag yourself out of bed on a cold winter morning?

Well, new research is exploring the actual neurochemistry involved in shaping the way we think and act, especially when it’s cold and dark for so many hours in a day.

One article, published in the journal Brain, suggested that these symptoms are caused by a change in the way your brain uses serotonin, a feel-good hormone. What this means is that the brain releases serotonin but then acts like a sponge and soaks it all back up so it doesn’t get a chance to do its job of making us feel happy. The brains of people diagnosed with SAD ultimately had less serotonin available to stimulate that happy feeling during the winter than they did in the summer.

This can have a number of effects beyond making us feel blue. For instance, it can increase appetite and makes us feel sluggish.

winter blues

So can you beat those winter blues and how?

One of the main drivers of winter blues are the shorter days that we get in Canadian winters, which can affect our diet and other indicators of wellness. A holistic approach can help you have your best winter ever. This includes exercise, foods and natural health products that may even help you to prevent symptoms before they start. On top of using a holistic approach, we want to emphasize that if you are experiencing symptoms of depression or SAD, it’s important to seek professional support from a healthcare practitioner as soon as possible.

Eat the Blues Away

Tofu

Consume foods that are rich in good fats and energizing protein.

Serotonin, that “feel-good” hormone we mentioned earlier, is made from the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is naturally found in foods, such as nuts, seeds, tofu and fish. Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that consuming a diet that boosts tryptophan levels, particularly during times of less sunlight, may reduce symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Supplement Your Mood

Supplements can also be a source of mood-boosting compounds that could see you through the dark winter months. Several natural health products have been linked to helping to promote a healthy mood balance and support brain health, including SAMe, 5-HTP, long chain omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D.

Work It Out

Winter exercising

Exercise has been shown to relieve stress and increase general well-being. If possible, go for a noon-time walk outside to get a bit of sunlight and get the blood pumping. If you opt to exercise indoors, orient yourself towards a large window for a bit of natural light.

Shine

Bright light therapy is an increasingly common treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder. However, you don’t need a diagnosis to benefit from a natural-spectrum light, which simulates the colour of sunlight. It can be as simple as switching it on while you’re having your breakfast on dark, winter mornings before work.

If you’re prone to feeling blue during the late months of winter, consider making some simple additions to your winter routine. Consuming more protein-rich foods, getting an extra nutritional kick with a supplement or adding exercise and a bright light to your day may be effective ways of keeping those winter blues at bay.

If you or a loved one are experiencing severe, depression-like symptoms, it is important that you speak to a health care practitioner.

As part of the senior leadership team, Michelle develops implements and leads communication initiatives that support the strategic priorities of the Association. She is responsible for overseeing the integrated communications strategy including both internal and external communications, the management of all public relations, marketing, advertising and member communications.