On a day like today, with the sun shining and the mild temperatures, it’s easy to forget that we are entering into the coldest and shortest days of the year. For some people, autumn is received with a great deal of excitement. The changing and falling of the leaves, the crisp air, the coming of the holidays, ski and hockey season are often welcomed with enthusiasm. But for many people, autumn and the anticipation of winter may bring worry of the impending winter blues.
What are the winter blues?
As the days get shorter and the temperature grows colder, many of us start to feel more tired, sluggish and down. It can be hard to get out of bed in the morning, maintain energy levels throughout the day and feel motivated to exercise, socialize and even do basic errands. The reduced amount of sunlight that comes with shorter days is often linked to feeling down. The main theory is that the lack of sunlight can have an affect on certain hormones your body produces. Melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel sleepy and helps control your sleep and walk cycles, may be produced in higher levels in the winter. As well, serotonin, a hormone that impacts your mood, appetite and sleep, may be produced in lesser amounts during these months and can result in lower mood.
Here are some tips to help combat the winter blues:
1) Get Some Light
It is so tempting to stay inside when it is cold and miserable outside. Try to resist this urge and get yourself out of the house or office a few times a day. Getting enough sunlight is the most important. Even if it’s a cloudy day, a walk around the block or to your local coffee shop can wake you up and increase your mood. If it's a blizzard outside, even absorbing some light from the window or from a light box (emits artificial light) for 20 minutes a day can make a difference.
When you exercise, your body naturally releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins can reduce stress, improve feelings of anxiety and depression, boost self-esteem and improve sleep. Even short episodes of physical activity can have a big impact.
Again, as much as you may be tempted to stay in the warm comforts of your home, being around other people can lift your spirits. If you are at work, go out for lunch with co-workers. If you are at home with the kids, schedule a play date. It not only can boost your mood but can also reduce your feelings of isolation and loneliness.
4) Take Care of Yourself
Give yourself some permission for some pampering. It can be as indulgent as going for a massage or as simple as taking a bath or reading a book. Self-care is important all year round to promote mental wellness but especially during the cold winter months.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
If your winter blues symptoms become more intense and persistent you may actually be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or winter depression. Please seek medical care immediately from your family doctor or psychiatrist.
Lindsay Ross, MSW RSW, is a clinical social worker in private practice in Toronto, Ontario.