Beat the winter blues

The real reason you get depressed in winter

When Manhattan writer Anna Breslaw is invited out for drinks, she usually says no.

It’s not because she has sworn off alcohol or has other commitments. Breslaw suffers from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression or seasonal depression. Its symptoms include excessive sleeping, low energy and increased anxiety — all caused by lack of natural light.

“Everything is a lot harder for me, particularly in January and February,” says the 30-year-old author of the novel “Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here.”

SAD was formally recognized as a condition by the National Institute of Mental Health in 1984 following studies by Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine and author of the book “Winter Blues.”

He claims one-fifth of the population residing on the US’s light-deprived Northeast Coast displays at least some of SAD’s symptoms, which can also include increased appetite, social isolation and cravings for sweets and starch.

One-fifth of the population residing on the US’s light-deprived Northeast Coast displays at least some of SAD’s symptoms.

But SAD is not without its skeptics. For years, critics have said it is no different from regular depression. In January 2016, a study headed by Steven LoBello of Auburn University in Alabama looked at nearly 35,000 adults at different times of the year and in various time zones. The findings suggested that incidences of depression are stable across different latitudes, seasons and sunlight exposures, causing some to cast doubt on SAD as a legitimate psychiatric disorder.

“There’s this idea of a folk construct of seasonal depression,” LoBello tells the Post. “In wintertime, depending how severe your winter is … it might impact your mood, but not to the extent of major depression.”

But Breslaw has no doubts about the effect of the season on her mood. Her psychiatrist increases her usual dose of the antidepressant Wellbutrin by 50 percent in winter in an effort to treat the symptoms, and every morning Breslaw uses a light therapy box — bulbs in a box with a diffusing screen that expose the user to intense levels of light under controlled conditions.

Rosenthal, too, stands firm and is doubtful of LoBello’s findings. “SAD is a pattern that can only be determined by examining a person’s history over time, not at a single point,” he says. “ vast literature from many countries showing SAD to be a major problem.”

5 TIPS FOR BEATING SAD FROM NORMAN E. ROSENTHAL

Feeling down? Here are Rosenthal’s tips to getting better.

1. Use a 10,000-lux light therapy box (from $50 to $350, depending on the model) for 10 minutes every day.

2. Take a multivitamin containing vitamin D, which is naturally derived from sunlight. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphate from our diets, and is important for healthy bones, teeth and muscles.

3. Invest in a dawn simulator or sunrise lamp (from $20) that mimics early morning light if it’s dark outside.

4. Do moderate-to-vigorous exercise; it releases endorphins to fight low mood and carbohydrate cravings.

5. See a health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist (who can prescribe medicine).

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Exhausted, shunning all social contact and feeling hopeless? And the cold weather with the constantly overcast sky is not helping either. Have you dismissed it as a case of winter blues? You could be suffering from SAD – seasonal affective disorder. One way of suspecting SAD is if you appear to feel fine mentally in spring and summer and feel depressed only in winter.

What is SAD?

Fortunately for us in Australia, SAD is not as common as depression is. It strikes with greater frequency in countries where winter is severe and the day is very short. That’s because SAD is primarily diagnosed as extreme sensitivity to light. Having said that, GPs do report cases of SAD in colder parts of Australia from mid-autumn to the start of spring. It has now been classified as a mood disorder that strikes in the same season every year and can be accompanied by significant depressive tendencies. While SAD is associated with winter, in rare cases, it could be a summer occurrence, with the person feeling anxious in summer due to excessive light. Usually two consecutive seasons qualifies for a diagnosis. Australia has an incidence rate of 1 in 300 people.

While SAD is still being researched, it is believed to be caused by:

  • A disturbance in the sleep cycle. Circadian rhythms can be affected by light.
  • A change in melatonin production. Melatonin is hormone produced by the brain and controls our wake and sleep cycle. The amount of melatonin produced depends on amount of light (although some foods like meats and grains do contain miniscule levels of melatonin).
  • A change in serotonin production. Scientists have established a connection between lack of this chemical and depression. Serotonin is produced in the brain and intestines (mostly intestines), and controls our mood, social behaviour, appetite, sleep and memory. Serotonin is called the ‘happy hormone’. The serotonin needed by the brain must be produced in it.

What are some tell-tale signs of SAD?

Signs of SAD are like what a lot of people may feel generally in winter. So, there may not be a reason to rush to the GP on the first day you feel low in winter. However, if the symptoms persist for a while and you are unable to shake them off with normal social contact, it is time to note how you feel. Does it fall into a pattern with how you felt same time last year? Is it becoming impossible to meet your social and professional obligations? According to the government organisation, Healthdirect, some symptoms that indicate SAD are:

  • Extreme lack of energy
  • Excessive sleep
  • Increase in appetite and a craving for carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest in social activities and professional work. It could also manifest in extreme social aloofness.

How is SAD treated?

Primary treatment for SAD revolves around bright light therapy – the medical term for which is phototherapy. It is often combined with psychotherapy and antidepressants.

  • Phototherapy comprises some of these methods:
    • Lightbox: contains a special fluorescent blue light. It emits a very high intensity light (several times higher than a light bulb) which reduces the secretion of melatonin in the brain. The patient is exposed to this for periods varying from 15 minutes to an hour every day. The light is covered with a special plastic screen to screen out harmful ultraviolet rays. The effect is like natural sunlight. These are usually small boxes that can be kept on a desk or dining table. Most people report better mood in a couple of weeks.
    • Dawn lights: These are programmed to switch on early mornings to simulate warmer weather. It is aimed at improving the circadian rhythm and putting the patient on the appropriate winter sleep cycle. There are a few different products on the market, but speak to your GP who will recommend the right one for you.
  • Anti-depressants: The range of anti-depressants usually prescribed for normal depression also works for SAD and the right one will be prescribed by your GP.
  • Exercise and diet: It is considered normal for most people to exercise less and eat more in winter. But those prone to SAD are advised to be more particular about both. Exercise is known to boost serotonin production and a good diet which swaps simple sugary carbohydrates with slow-burning complex ones is important to avoid spikes and troughs in energy.

You can combat normal winter blues with exercise, a good diet and your usual level of social interaction. But if you feel you can’t shake off your depression, see your GP.

This blog is brought to you by DoctorDoctor who provides access to in-home after-hours medical care for GPs and their patients in Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, and Brisbane.

Medical information published on this website is of a general nature only and not intended to be a substitute for informed healthcare professional advice or clinical care. If you have specific healthcare concerns or issues you should consult with a qualified health care professional such as your own GP.

Shining a light on winter depression

Light therapy can help you avoid seasonal affective disorder.

Published: November, 2019

Winter does not officially begin until Dec. 21, but as the days grow shorter and sunlight exposure becomes scarcer, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) becomes more common. SAD is a type of depression that occurs during the late fall and early winter and often ends by spring or early summer. The exact cause of SAD is unknown, but research points to lack of light as the main contributor.

“SAD is not a minor condition, but because people typically experience it only during certain months, they don’t see it as a serious issue. However, it is imperative to treat,” says Dr. Paolo Cassano, a psychiatrist who specializes in low-level light therapy at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Do you have SAD?

For people to be formally diagnosed with SAD, they must meet the criteria for major depressive episodes coinciding with the fall and winter months for at least two years. Common symptoms of a major depressive episode include

  • feeling hopeless or worthless
  • losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • having problems with sleep
  • experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • feeling sluggish or agitated.

Chemical imbalances

How does SAD occur? Sunlight exposure stimulates the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that helps control your circadian rhythm — the body’s internal 24-hour sleep-wake clock.

Lack of light can throw off your circadian rhythm. This can cause your brain to produce too much of the sleep hormone melatonin and to release less serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical that affects mood. The result of this chemical imbalance? You feel low and lethargic. Other common symptoms of SAD include lack of sexual energy, overeating (especially from craving high-carbohydrate and high-calorie comfort food), and social withdrawal.

SAD affects more than just mood. It is also associated with impaired cognitive function, including problems with concentration and working memory — like having trouble recalling just-learned information or finding the right words when speaking.

People who live in the northern states, where there’s noticeably less light in fall and winter, tend to suffer more from SAD than those who live in the south. A family history of SAD or depression also raises your risk.

Drugs and light therapy

The most common drugs used to treat SAD are antidepressants. Bupropion (Wellbutrin) primarily increases levels of dopamine, while selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) increase mostly serotonin levels.

If medication is not for you, or you want to avoid drugs because of possible side effects, then light therapy may be a better option. The idea behind light therapy is to replace the missing sunshine with artificial light.

Light therapy uses light boxes that produce a bright white light. As far as your brain is concerned, artificial light works just like natural sunlight. “Even if you don’t yet have the clinical signs and symptoms of SAD, using light therapy during the winter may help prevent it,” says Dr. Cassano.

There are many light boxes available online. Here are some tips for finding the right one and using it correctly.

Get enough exposure. Your light box should have 10,000 lux exposure. (“Lux” is a measure of light intensity.) A bright sunny day is 50,000 lux or more.

Don’t stare. Keep your eyes open, but don’t look directly at the light. Keep the box in front of you or just off to the side and about a foot away. “Spend your time reading, meditating, or watching TV,” says Dr. Cassano.

Get enough time. You should absorb light for about 30 minutes a day. You don’t have to do it all at once, either.

Begin in the morning. Try to get in some light time before 10 a.m.

“As days become longer and sunnier, you will use light therapy less often, or may even stop during the spring and summer except for the occasional cloudy weeks,” says Dr. Cassano.

Light therapy is relatively safe, although there can be some minor, temporary side effects like headaches and irritability.

Also, some medications, especially antibiotics like tetracycline, can make your skin more sensitive to light, and if you have a family history of macular degeneration, exposure to light therapy over the years may increase your risk. If any of these situations applies, check with your doctor before trying light therapy.

Image: Robert Daly/Getty Images

Disclaimer:
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Overview


Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

What causes SAD?

The exact cause of SAD isn’t fully understood, but it’s often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days.

The main theory is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect the:

  • production of melatonin – melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy; in people with SAD, the body may produce it in higher than normal levels
  • production of serotonin – serotonin is a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep; a lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression
  • body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) – your body uses sunlight to time various important functions, such as when you wake up, so lower light levels during the winter may disrupt your body clock and lead to symptoms of SAD

It’s also possible that some people are more vulnerable to SAD as a result of their genes, as some cases appear to run in families.

10 Ways To Beat The Winter Blues

Seasonal Health

It’s common to experience feelings of sadness and depression during the long winter months. It might be down to spending long periods of time indoors, the change in weather or the shorter days. If you find yourself suffering from the winter blues, check out these 10 ways to beat them.

It’s common to experience feelings of sadness and depression during the long winter months. It might be down to spending long periods of time indoors, the change in weather or the shorter days. If you find yourself suffering from the winter blues, check out these 10 ways to beat them.

1

Think outside the box when it comes to fitness

You might start the winter with big fitness plans, but when it comes down to it, how many of us are guilty of choosing the sofa over the treadmill? To prevent yourself from falling into this trap, find yourself an exercise class that you actually want to do during the winter, such as trampoline aerobics. Exercise releases endorphins to make you feel happy – a great way to beat the winter blues. And if you’re really struggling to pull yourself away from the sofa, then try exercising at home using workout DVDs or following fitness videos online.

2

Get an indoor hobby

When the winter months roll in, it doesn’t mean that you have to give up on your interests and park yourself in front of the TV for months on end. To keep yourself occupied, take up a new hobby for the winter months that you can complete indoors, such as writing, reading, painting, learning a new language or cooking. Having a hobby you can do in the winter will help keep your mind occupied and add some fun and variety to your evenings.

3

Make someone smile

Another way to beat the winter blues is to carry out acts of kindness for other people. It might be through charity work, volunteering, or making someone close to you smile with a thoughtful gesture. Scientists carried out a study which found that people who practised daily acts of kindness over 10 days experienced a significant happiness boost. Introduce some of these small changes into your life to see how much of a positive impact it can have on your own mood.

4

Plan things

Your diary might be full during the summer months and why should this be any different in the winter? Don’t find yourself stuck in an endless routine of going to work, coming home and sitting in the house all winter. Instead, schedule in something to look forward to, it might be a weekend away, a night out with friends or something ongoing like a training for a marathon. Whatever you decide, make sure it’s something you can look forward to.

5

Improve your diet

While it can be tempting to indulge on comfort foods in the winter, research published in the Public Health Nutrition journal found that people who consumed fast foods were 51 per cent more likely to develop depression. In light of this, look to include more nutritious food options in your diet, particularly those containing vitamin B such as chicken, soya beans and fruit. Vitamin B helps the brain produce serotonin (a chemical which helps to balance moods.)

6

Decorate your home

If you’ve grown tired of the decor of your house, then see the winter months as the perfect time to give your house a makeover. We don’t necessarily mean knocking down walls or completely refitting your kitchen, but a few simple changes can make all of the difference. Try giving your living room a lick of paint, hang up some pictures up around your house or simply rearrange the furniture. All are great ways to update your home and give it a fresh feel without breaking the bank.

7

Laugh more often

Laughter is one of the best medicines out there, particularly when it comes to the winter blues as it releases endorphins and serotonin, helping to raise your mood and reduce stress. Studies have found that even the anticipation of laughter can help to reduce stress levels and lift spirits, but many of us don’t laugh enough. Easy ways to increase your laughter is to go out with friends, watch your favourite comedian, comedy movie, or read a funny book.

8

Light up your life

The winter blues can also be brought on by a lack of sunlight as during the winter months. Many people commute to work in the dark, spend all day inside then go home when it’s dark again. To counteract these effects, get outside as much as possible to expose yourself to natural light leave your curtains open and sit close to windows where possible. You could also invest in a SAD light box, which has been proven to improve your mood and reduce feelings of sadness.

9

Have a set bedtime

Having a structured bedtime can have more of a bearing on your health than you might think. A lack of sleep can contribute towards feelings of sadness and could be part of the reason why you are experiencing the winter blues. To give yourself the best chance of getting to sleep, put away your phone at least an hour before you go to bed as the blue light emitted from electronic devices can mess with your sleeping pattern and keep your brain alert. Try unwinding with a book instead, as this will relax and prepare your body for sleep.

10

Take a vitamin D supplement

During the winter months, many of us spend less time outdoors which results in a drop in vitamin D levels and research has shown that low levels of the vitamin can cause SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). To counteract this problem you can increase the amount of foods that contain the sunshine vitamin in your diet such as oily fish, mushrooms and eggs, or take a daily supplement of vitamin D. Alongside this, make sure you try to get outside at every possible opportunity to increase your vitamin D intake naturally.

10 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues and Feel Great

Wish Jack Frost would stop nipping at your nose already? Grab a hot cup of cocoa, add some knee-slappers to your Netflix queue, and get ready to enjoy the season without the winter blues.

Winter doesn’t need to be a “down” time of year. Thinkstock (2)

Dark mornings, darker evenings, and chilly gray days in between mean winter is here — and with the coldest season come the winter blues. There’s no clinical diagnosis for the “winter blues,” but experts at the National Institutes of Health say the so-called winter blues are fairly common and are usually marked by feeling more down than usual, sad, or less energized.

Because the winter blues is not a discrete medical condition, an accurate measure of how many people it affects is difficult to know for sure. Estimates suggest anywhere from 14 (1) to 20 percent of American adults experience such seasonal mood changes. (2)

A small percentage of people who experience a change of mood with the season do have seasonal depression, a more severe condition that is a medical disorder, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD affects about 1 to 9 percent of Americans (prevalence rates differ, depending on location and how severe the change of season actually is), according to research published in November 2015 in the journal Depression Research and Treatment. (3)

According the National Institute of Mental Health, SAD is a recurrent form of major depression, characterized by feelings of hopelessness and despair, fatigue, problems sleeping and concentrating, and changes in appetite. (4) Symptoms of winter blues are milder than those of SAD, but that doesn’t mean you should brush off your blah feeling.

“Feeling blue for a period of time is not, per se, normal,” says Jacqueline Gollan, PhD, associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. “When people feel blue, it’s a signal that something in their life needs attention.”

And there are things you can do to lift your mood. This winter, try these bad-mood zappers to beat the winter blues and stay well all winter long:

1. Lace Up Your Running Shoes and Get Moving

Getting at least 20 minutes of vigorous activity four times a week has been shown to reduce depressive mood, says Dr. Gollan. “And there are a variety of ways to get exercise,” she points out. Get a gym membership if that’s what it takes to keep you warm and working out, but you could also try riding your bike to work or running up and down the stairs.

2. Set Your Alarm Clock and Stick to a Sleep Routine

Tempting as it might be to sleep in on dark mornings, it’s best to stick with a regular sleep schedule — which means waking up at the same times on weekdays and weekends. Establish a routine wake-up time and a soothing bedtime ritual, and if you aren’t already in this habit, allow three or four weeks to get used to it, advises Gollan. It’s important to get at least seven hours of sleep every night for your overall health, according to guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation. (5) Also, make sure that your sleeping area is comfortable, slightly cool, and free of noisy distractions.

3. Queue Up a Stream of Laugh-Out-Loud Films

Experts believe that laughter actually stimulates processes in your brain that counter depressive symptoms. And since chuckling is downright contagious, you can invite a few pals over to share the popcorn.

4. Warm Yourself Up With a Mug of Real Hot Cocoa

It’s a good idea to make a few tweaks to your diet during the winter, says Susan Kleiner, PhD, RD, author of The Good Mood Diet. First, get cozy with some homemade hot chocolate, using nondutched, natural cocoa powder (which is high in heart-healthy and mood-boosting flavonoids). “Plus, this drink gives a wonderful sense of something delicious, a treat, and a ritual to look forward to,” she says. She recommends drinking cocoa in the evening to prepare you for sleep. Make it with fortified milk, which provides a combination of carbohydrate, protein, and vitamin D — the combination helps increase serotonin levels, which help us relax, Dr. Kleiner says.

Kleiner also recommends eating fish — especially fatty fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, lake trout, sardines, or albacore tuna — three to five times a week, as this can help boost mood; plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; and at least one egg with the yolk (a good source of choline, which helps regulate nerve function and metabolism among other functions, and therefore is important to keep energy levels stable) each day, preferably for breakfast.

5. Host a Festive Party — But Don’t Stress

‘Tis the season to deck the halls and host a small seasonal party. And if it’s already after the holidays, any excuse to host a gathering of friends will do — try a dinner party, cheese tasting, or board game night. Planning an event will give you something to look forward to — and it could also put you on other people’s invite lists (more fun for you!).

On a cautionary note, Gollan says that “chronic interpersonal hassles do increase perceived stress.” So if there’s a relationship in your social circle or family that’s an ongoing source of stress, give yourself a present and work it out, ideally before the party.

6. Give Yourself a Manageable Task to Accomplish

It’s important to build activities into your day — even chores, like cleaning the floor — that will give you a sense of competence and accomplishment. According to one psychological theory, we all have an innate need to feel competent in order to also grow emotionally, have a sense of integrity, and maintain well-being. (6)

Balance the hard work with little things that bring you pleasure, like treating yourself with fresh flowers or, yes, that homemade cup of hot cocoa.

7. But Don’t Let Your To-Do List Get Too Out of Hand

Don’t overwhelm yourself with lists of projects and chores just because you can’t do other activities you might spend time doing in other seasons. If you love to garden in spring and summer as a stress-relieving activity, that doesn’t mean spending those same hours in the winter cleaning your closets is going to do you the same amount of good — nor be as enjoyable.

Complete the business you need to take care of, and do it on time.

“Behavioral activation is an important strategy,” says Gollan. Decide to stop procrastinating on the unpleasant stuff that could just snowball into more stress later, like unpaid bills, so you’ll have more time to do things you do enjoy. Get the tools you need to get organized.

8. Book a Staycation — Even if It’s a Mini One

Most people get a lift when they have something to look forward to. If your coworker’s upcoming Bermuda vacation has you dreaming of traveling, Gollan says you can save money and still get a boost by planning mini-getaways closer to home. You may not have the budget or time off of work to take an exotic trip, but it’s much easier to make time for and plan a local staycation treat, such as an afternoon ice skating with friends, trying out a new restaurant in a nearby town, or going to a concert.

9. Consider Light Therapy if You Can’t Get the Sunshine You Need

It’s dark when you leave for work and dark when you get home, so how are you going to get your daily dose of natural sunshine? And if you don’t think less sunlight during winter months can affect you, your mood, or your energy levels, think again. A decrease in sunlight can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythms, and cause a drop in serotonin levels and Vitamin D levels, which can lead to depressive symptoms.

If you have the flexibility and the weather allows for it, schedule in an early-morning walk or lunchtime stroll. If you don’t, consider this option, which is especially beneficial for people with full-fledged seasonal depression: a full-spectrum light box. Light therapy can help regulate your body’s circadian rhythms and its natural release of the hormones that help you feel energized and the ones that help you sleep.

Gollan cautions that these are actually pretty powerful tools (and pricey!), so you really should work with a doctor or mental health professional who can advise you on when during the day to use it, and for how long.

10. Don’t Hesitate to See Your Healthcare Professional

“Blues can be part of some other system,” says Gollan. Chronic pain, headaches, sleep disorders, and even heart disease are all linked to depression symptoms, so check in with your healthcare provider to make sure your winter blues aren’t something more serious.

10 Cool Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

Original source: http://blog.ctrinstitute.com/10-cool-ways-beat-winter-blues/

By Elizabeth Shein,MSW, RSW, Trainer, Crisis and Trauma Resource Institute

“Oh the weather outside is frightful”. And you’re not feeling so delightful. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do both to prevent the winter blues from coming on and to get yourself back to normal if they’re already here.

More than half the population living in places where there are 4 seasons report having the “winter blues”: mild depression, lack of motivation and low energy. In 2-3% of the population, these difficulties are very severe. They recur as an annual depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Women are more often affected than men.

Here are some tips for making peace with winter and cheering up:

1. Think like a Norwegian

In northern Norway people view winter as something to be enjoyed, not just endured. What if you embrace winter instead of resist it? The author of a study in northern Norway found that people are actually less depressed because they have a positive wintertime mindset. The cold gives them a chance to drink a hot beverage all day, skate or ski or build snowmen, or sit by a fire or visit with friends.

Mindset research is increasingly finding that it doesn’t take much to shift one’s thinking. Consciously try to have a positive mindset and that might be enough to induce it.

2. Let the sunshine in

Research shows that exposure to bright light upon awakening is very effective in treating winter depression. The Mayo Clinic advises that light therapy can help relieve symptoms when used either on its own or with other treatments such as medication or aerobic exercise. Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and has a positive effect on brain chemicals linked to mood. Buy a light unit that has been clinically tested by reputable scientists. Open blinds and curtains, trim back tree branches and sit closer to windows for an extra dose of sunshine. Lighten up… literally!

3. Activity – Take it outside

Regular aerobic exercise works like an antidepressant charm. A morning exercise routine is best, especially one that includes outdoor activity. So pick up a new winter sport like snowshoeing, skiing or ice fishing. There’s a saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Why not invest in clothing that keeps you warm, cozy and dry?

Those Scandinavians are on to something. A recent study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine, Science and Sport reports that a 30-minute lunch time walk 3 times a week boosts mood, and increases alertness and enthusiasm at work. Outside is best. If that’s not possible, exercise under bright lights to boost your mood.

4. Turn on the tunes

You know how vacuuming goes better with music, as does anything you really don’t like to do? Crank up your favourite music: something that makes you want to dance or takes you to another (perhaps warmer) place. A 2013 study at the University of Missouri reported that listening to upbeat or cheery music significantly improves mood in both the short and long term.

5. Cook up some comfort

Mac ’n cheese, cinnamon buns, mulled wine. Yum. We all love winter comfort foods. In moderation, these are fine. But good nutrition makes a difference to our mental health. For those times when you just want to curl up under a warm blanket, meal planning can help you avoid the lure of takeout and comfort food. Get your daily fruits and vegetables with roasted veggies, stewed winter fruits and healthy soups. Make up big batches of soup and freeze them in portions. Spend a few cosy hours making a stew and your kitchen will smell like comfort.

6. Drink lots… of water

It’s important to stay hydrated. Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. Water helps keep your skin glowing and healthy in the harsher weather and helps remove toxins and waste from your body (all those comfort foods!). It can prevent headaches and reduce joint and muscle pain. Try adding a slice of lemon, lime or cucumber for increased flavour and a flash of colour. Limit your alcohol consumption. Alcohol is actually a depressant and can leave you feeling more blue.

7. Find an activity you enjoy and do it… a lot!

Find something that you like and then commit to doing it. Think back to what you enjoyed as a child or always wanted to do. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to play an instrument. Or study a new language. Or make something. It doesn’t have to cost anything. Ask someone to share their talent or offer your own skills in exchange.

8. Treat yourself – plan ahead

Why not make a list of all the things you are looking forward to this winter? Look at it whenever you start to feel down about the season. Even better, plan things to look forward to and put them in your calendar. Research shows that simply anticipating something you like makes you happier. This is a practical way to put that into action. A weekend getaway, a massage, time at a spa, a special dinner or party with friends, a concert… start dreaming now.

9. Laugh and get social

“Laughter is the sun that drives winter away from the human face” (Victor Hugo). Laughter can help to decrease stress hormones and lighten your mood. Watch funny movies, play board games, try laughter yoga. Keep a mental list of people you can turn to when you’re down and need a pick-me-up: family, friends, mentors, co-workers and neighbours, A simple phone call, chat over coffee or a nice email can lift your mood.

10. Ask for help

If these tips are not enough to get you out of the winter blues, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Speak to your doctor or call your local mental health centre. If your symptoms are severe and debilitating, cognitive behavioural therapy or other forms of therapy and medication can be very helpful.

Like it or not, winter is here. We may as well roll with it. Snowball fight, anyone?

© CTRI Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute Inc. (www.ctrinstitute.com)
Content of this blog may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute Inc.,

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Winter can be a bit of a bummer: It’s cold. It’s grey. The days are short, and the shovelling is long. It’s enough to put anyone in a funk. In fact, as many as 25 to 35 percent of Canadians get the winter blues.

For others, it can be more serious than that. Approximately one-fifth of Canadians experience a form of depression called seasonal affective disorder (a.k.a. S.A.D.). Symptoms of S.A.D. can include feelings of hopelessness, lethargy and oversleeping as well as increased appetite and weight gain. Women, as it turns out, are most susceptible.

Experts aren’t completely sure what causes seasonal depression, but most point the finger at the lack of sunlight in the winter months, which can upset your biological clock and wreak havoc on your serotonin levels. Watch the video above for more on how and why winter affects your mood plus tips for beating those blues away. Remember: Always talk to a doctor before pursuing any form of treatment.

(Special thanks to Rose Marie Donovan of Alliance Psychotherapy Services.)

It’s time we started talking openly about our mental health. Join the conversation on Bell Let’s Talk Day, January 31, and help end the stigma around mental illness. For every text message sent and mobile or long-distance call made by Bell Canada and Bell Aliant customers, Bell will donate five cents to Canadian mental health initiatives. The same goes for anyone sending a tweet using #BellLetsTalk, watching the Bell Let’s Talk Day video on Instagram or Facebook, or using the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat filter. But talking about it is just the first step: Visit letstalk.bell.ca for more ways you can effect change and build awareness around mental health.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder

According to Dictionary.com—

Summer is “a period of fruition, fulfillment, happiness, or beauty.”
Winter is “a period of time characterized by coldness, misery, barrenness, or death.”

Well, that sums it up quite nicely, we think.

It is winter yet again. The beautiful colors of the autumn leaves have disappeared and have been replaced by barren tree limbs and icicles sharp and brittle. The harsh winds rattle the window frames and the cold air seems to sing a cruel song that frightens away birds to warmer climates. The daytime gives way to the moon, and darkness sets in way before supper. So, you see, while some perceive winter as a festive time when their worlds are blanketed by the purity of snow, others feel that they are being suffocated by a literally colorless existence.

It is estimated that half a million Americans are negatively affected by the changing seasons and darkening of the summer light. They feel depressed, irritable, and tired. Their activity levels decrease, and they find themselves in bed more often. This depression disorder not only affects their health, but it also affects their everyday life, including their job performance and friendships. This disorder is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, appropriately acronym-ed, SAD.

What is SAD Exactly?

SAD is a mood disorder that affects an individual the same time each year, usually starting when the weather becomes colder in September or October, and ends in April or May when the weather becomes warmer. People with SAD feel depressed during the shorter days of winter, and more cheerful and energetic during the brightness of spring and summer.

“Hey, Einstein! I knew that already! Tell me something I don’t know!”

Jeez, okay, okay. Irritability is a sign of SAD, so I understand your bitterness, Crankypants. Here are—

10 Things You May Not Have Known About SAD

1. Did you know that between 60% and 90% of people with SAD are women? It’s true. If you are a female between 15 and 55, you are more likely to develop SAD. Great, so not only do women have PMS, Menopause, and child labor to worry about, add SAD to the list, too.

2. Even though the harsh chill in the air might bring you down, SAD is believed to relate more to daylight, not the temperature. Some experts believe that a lack of sunlight increases the body’s production of a body chemical called melatonin. Melatonin is what helps regulate sleep and can cause symptoms of depression.

3. SAD can be treated. If your symptoms are mild, meaning, if they do not interfere in and completely ruin your daily life, light therapy may help you beat SAD. Using light therapy has shown highly effective. Studies prove that between 50% and 80% of light therapy users have complete remissions of symptoms. However, light therapy must be used for a certain amount of time daily and continue throughout the dark, winter months.

4. Some say that light therapy has no side effects, but others disagree. We think it simply depends on the person. Some people experience mild side effects, such as headaches, eyestrain, or nausea. However, these light therapy users say that the side effects are temporary and subside with time or reduced light exposure. Most scientists agree that there are no long-term side effects, but remember to consult your physician before any treatment decisions are made.

5. There are some things to consider if you want to try light therapy in your home, otherwise you will not receive all the benefits that this type of therapy offers.

  • When purchasing a light box, do not skimp as far as money is concerned. Buy a larger one so that you will receive enough light to be beneficial.
  • The best time for light therapy is in the early morning. (If used late at night, it could cause insomnia.) So, even if it means waking up earlier, set aside some morning time to relax and use your light box.
  • Many people are not aware of this, but you must have your eyes open and face the light during therapy. Do not stare at the light. That would be silly. Simply face the light, eyes open.

6. It takes more than just one winter depression to be diagnosed with SAD. Individuals must meet certain criteria:

  • The symptoms and remission of the systems must have occurred during the last two consecutive years.
  • The seasonal depressive episodes must outnumber the non-seasonal depressive episodes in one’s lifetime.

7. SAD can be treated with certain medications that increase serotonin levels in the brain. Such medications include antidepressants, such as Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft.

8. There is actually a device that conducts light therapy and allows you to walk around while treated. The device is called a light visor. Just wear the light visor around your head and complete your daily chores and rituals. A light visor still can potentially have the same side effects as the standard forms of light therapy, so only simple activities, such as watching television, walking, or preparing meals is advised. We do not recommend you operate heavy machinery while wearing a light visor. (You would look pretty silly with it on out in public, anyway.)

9. If you have a friend or loved one who suffers from SAD, you can help them tremendously.

  • Try to spend more time with the person, even though they may not seem to want any company.
  • Help them with their treatment plan.
  • Remind them often that summer is only a season away. Tell them that their sad feelings are only temporary, and they will feel better in no time.
  • Go outside and do something together. Take a walk, or exercise. Get them to spend some time outside in the natural sunlight. Just remember to bundle up!

10. Although not as common, a second type of seasonal affective disorder known as summer depression can occur in individuals who live in warmer climates. Their depression is related to heat and humidity, rather than light. Winter depression does cause petulance in many cases, but summer depression is known to cause severe violence. So, it could be worse.

There are times in this article, in which I seem a bit blithe. However, please, do not take my somewhat lighthearted approach to SAD the wrong way. SAD is a serious disorder that disrupts the lives of many people, worldwide. It is nothing to laugh at. Sneeze at, perhaps—it is winter, after all. But laugh at? No, not at all.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder

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