If you live in Ontario, Canada, like myself, chances are you’ve experienced a combination of bone-chilling, sub–zero temperatures, and extremely short days during the winter months. Because of this, chances are that you or someone you know has also experienced a case of what is commonly known as “The Winter Blues” during this time. A sluggish feeling, accompanied by low energy levels, constant fatigue, a tendency to oversleep, and overall not feeling like yourself are common symptoms of “The Winter Blues”. Sound familiar?
If so, what you’re experiencing is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as SAD). Rohan and Rough (2017) describe SAD as a subtype of depression that typically occurs in the fall and winter months. Studies have shown that areas which experience a greater variation in the amount of sunlight they receive between seasons are affected by symptoms of SAD more than those areas which see less of a variation in sunlight hours. In Canada, where sunset in the summer is after 8PM and sunset in the winter is before 5PM, we certainly see wide a variation in sunlight hours. Other symptoms of SAD include depressed moods and anhedonia (an inability to feel pleasure). These symptoms may start out as mild and progress throughout the season.
If you’re living in Canada (or any other place that experiences a great variation in sunlight exposure between seasons), the bad news is that the cold weather and decrease in sunlight hours will be inevitable every year. The good news? There are steps you can take to help you beat your winter blues! So if you find yourself experiencing symptoms of SAD year after year, don’t brush it off as “just the winter blues”; make sure you are taking appropriate steps to get yourself out of this funk.
Here are a few things you can do to help you overcome your SAD symptoms:
Also called Bright Light Therapy or phototherapy, the purpose of light therapy is to replace the lost sunlight in the winter using a bright light. The individual experiencing SAD symptoms sits in front of a light box – study results show that doing so in the morning is most effective – once the fall season begins. Light therapy should be supervised by a medical professional, so before you give this method a try, be sure to see your doctor to make sure that this is a safe option for you (Melrose, 2015).
Many people with SAD are found to have low levels of Vitamin D, which is associated with depression (Melrose, 2015). We get Vitamin D naturally from the sun, so when the sun sets at 4:30 PM, and you’re stuck at work until 5:00 PM, it can be difficult to get enough of that Vitamin D. You can help your body receive sufficient levels by taking Vitamin D supplements. It’s important to speak to your doctor before taking the Vitamin D supplements to ensure that it is a safe option for you.
Speaking with a counsellor can provide support for you when you are experiencing symptoms of SAD. A popular approach that counsellors take to treating SAD is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The goal of the CBT approach is to break down negative patterns and overwhelming problems which are presented by an individual, by changing the way the individual thinks about them (Melrose, 2015). A professional is able to monitor your condition by using assessments, as well as by applying proven methods to your therapy to help you overcome your SAD.
Rohan , K. J., & Rough, J. N. (2017). Chapter 22/ Seasonal Affective Disorder. In The Oxford Handbook of Mood Disorders (pp. 254-264). Oxford University Press. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
Sherri Melrose, “Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches,” Depression Research and Treatment, vol. 2015, Article ID 178564, 6 pages, 2015. doi:10.1155/2015/178564
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