It is that time of year again… when it’s cold outside and all I want to do is stay inside.
For me, winter can bring to mind childhood memories of building a snowman, going ice skating, and making hot chocolate on the stove with my mom. Simultaneously, I can also be pulled to more recent memories of longer commute times, snow shovelling, and feeling frozen whenever I am outside pumping gas. For many, the holidays can also evoke thoughts of family arguments, fatigue, and financial pressures.
The winter blues, and at a clinical level, Major Depressive Disorder with the seasonal pattern specifier, is a diagnosis that involves symptoms of depression which recur seasonally. Even without a formal diagnosis or marked severity, many of us will notice a seasonal slump during the colder temperatures and gloomier days. As a resident of a colder climate, I myself notice a change in mood this time of year. Particularly, I hate waking up, heading to work, and departing for home when it is dark.
The lack of daylight in the winter months is often attributed as one of the reasons we feel tired, lethargic, deprived of energy, and with low mood. However, reduced light exposure is only one of the seasonal changes that can compromise our emotional experience. It is important to also look towards how we change our routines and the impact these subtle changes can have on our mood. In the summer, it is much easier to spend increased time outside, swim, and go for walks. As soon as the temperatures drop and the daylight hours shrink, we tend to become less active and, secondarily, less social. It just takes more effort, time and energy to leave the house.
While many of us feel the way I have described above, it is important that we do not accept this reality and that we not give up on our mood just because we cannot control the weather. There are many things we can do to actively limit the negative effects of the season. First, we can start prioritizing getting out of the house to socialize and exercise. We are fortunate that we have gyms, workout classes and indoor sports widely available these days. While it certainly takes an extra push to find the motivation to get out there on a cold day, I have found that the effort is usually feels worth it afterwards.
Making plans to go for coffee with friends or family also help to foster a sense of connection that inspires more positive moods. When busy schedules make it difficult to coordinate with friends, simply going for a mall walk can leave you feeling energized and less isolated. Not only does exercise and socializing improve mental health generally, but the act of just getting out of the house also helps to feel productive.
For individuals who experience more than just minor seasonal related mood changes, a light therapy lamp might help to give your body more of what it is lacking. These lamps are fairly affordable and have become much more widely accessible to purchase (http://bestreviews.com/best-light-therapy-lamps). Another common recommendation in the literature is Vitamin D supplements. A conversation with your physician can explore your needs in this regard, but the research certainly shows that Canadian’s are generally deficient in vitamin D during the winter months. Lastly, if you notice that your mood has been significantly disrupted, it does not hurt to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Winter may not be your favourite season, it certainly is not mine, but recognizing warning signs and how to help yourself might push you to make a change earlier.
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Image: Winter Wonderland by Shelby L. Bell. See side panel for further copyright information.
Jessica is a member of the clinical wellness and learning support team at FLEX Psychology. Jessica started Wellness Wednesday out of a desire to provide further opportunities for her clients to extend their wellness journey to all avenues of their life. You can learn more about Jessica by clicking here or by learning more about her and the clinical team at FLEX Psychology by clicking here.
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