Here in Northern Ontario, we often talk about the “winter blues”. The long winter months that follow the busy holiday season often lead us to stay indoors to enjoy the warmth and comfort of our homes. We cannot deny that the winter season can have negative effects on our mood, as we have to plan ahead for distant travels and outdoor activities. For most people, feeling down during winter is temporary and the return of sunny weather is all it takes to lift spirits, while for others, the “blues” can become a more severe experience known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
SAD is linked to the amount of sunlight received between the late fall season and early spring. Although the cause of SAD is not certain, it is suggested that individuals with SAD are lacking sun exposure during winter time which interrupts their sleep and wake cycle. Although not all cases of SAD are severe, this condition can present symptoms similar to depression, which includes: changes in appetite, weight, energy and also feelings of anxiety, irritability and hopelessness.
We are all affected by the changing season in some way; but there are things we can do to stay happy and healthy during winter. Everyone can benefit from getting more sunlight through outdoor activities; monitoring the weather can help you take advantage of mild winter days and ensure that you plan appropriately for outings. Following a healthy diet, getting regular sleep and exercise can also have many benefits.
It is important to address symptoms that do not go away easily. Those experiencing severe symptoms of SAD may require medication to help alleviate symptoms rapidly and effectively. If you or someone you know is feeling depressed for long periods during the winter or is experiencing other symptoms related to SAD, seek professional help. Your primary care provider can diagnose and prescribe treatment for conditions like SAD, and refer you to community resources for counselling and management of your symptoms. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact your local crisis hotline or seek immediate medical attention from your local emergency department.