The holiday season can be a joyous time for some, but for many it is a reminder of the challenges that come up with family dynamics or the lack of community that becomes apparent when you are sitting at home alone during Christmas day. This reminder may worsen in the months of January and February, especially in our wintery climate where we have mostly dark and snowy days.  My personal experience with depression first hit in the winter after returning to Saskatchewan from visiting family during the holidays. The following months were what one could describe as a living nightmare: difficulties sleeping, lack of appetite, intense periods of tearfulness, and on occasion thoughts of no longer wanting to be on the planet.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

My experience was defined as a major depressive episode, which can mostly be treated with medications and therapy. But for many, periods of sadness come and go every year with the seasons. This repetitive experience, called Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), is common to many Canadians and usually disappears when the sun begins to shine.

Symptoms of S.A.D. are like Depression, with the main symptom being low mood that arises at the same time every year and lasts for most days than not, over at least two-weeks. It also impacts the person’s ability to be social or function in their daily life. The main cause is a change in the amount of sunlight, which disturbs the body’s biological sleep-wake patterns and brain chemistry.

Who does S.A.D. affect?

Statistics show that young people, women, and those who live far north or south form the equator are at a higher risk of having symptoms of S.A.D. or the Winter blues. There is also a higher chance of being diagnosed with S.A.D. or any mood disorder if there is a family history of same.

How to manage symptoms?

For many more Canadians, the experience of S.A.D. may be present or show up in less intense ways. This is often known as the Winter Blues. Wherever you might find yourself on the spectrum of experience, here are some tips to support you as you enter the next half of winter:

  1. Before spending a bunch of money on supplements like Vitamin D, speak to a health professional about getting lab work done to confirm where nutrients levels are at. From there you can boost neurochemicals by giving your body healthy and nutritious foods or other supplements if needed.
  2. Engage with a community. A symptom of most mood disorders is social isolation. Whether this is a cause to the mood changing or purely a symptom, it makes sense to do what you can to continue to engage socially. Sometimes our body and mind close us off to social interactions that are not really adding value to our lives. Check in with who is in your close circle of friends. Do they build you up or put you down? Do they truly care about you or just use you? Reflect and then be open to the Universe bringing you new opportunities to engage with a loving community.
  1. Move your body as much as you can. It is easy to stay stagnant during the cold winter months, and we need the sunlight and the healing energy of the outdoors. Getting out into nature can be so beneficial. Sign up for a winter sport or go for a walk in a local park. If the thought of going outside is too overwhelming, then consider indoor activities that work for your space. Moving the body boosts our neurochemicals and adds energy to our body.
  1. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of S.A.D., the Winter blues, or Depression, it may be beneficial to speak to a mental health professional or family care provider about what is arising. There are various help lines available in North America where you can receive further supports.

Together we can decrease the stigma and acknowledge that we all have our ups and downs; it is okay to receive help with what is showing up.

Written by Fola Veritas