Beating the Winter Blues

 

Here we are approaching winter once more and with daylight savings having come to an end, hours of available sunlight are declining daily. When fall and winter months arrive it can be difficult to maintain a positive outlook and people often start feeling the winter blues or its more debilitating cousin, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). For both the winter blues and SAD, symptoms tend to start in the fall and continue through winter where people experience mood swings, lack of energy and high levels of fatigue. The fact that the winter blues and SAD occur when the days begin to darken and sunlight is at a minimum is not a coincidence as your energy and mood are influenced by exposure to sunlight. For example, your serotonin levels (AKA your “happy” hormones) rise when you are exposed to bright light. When it’s dark, your melatonin levels increase, which is why you may feel tired when the sun starts to set and during winter can be as early as 4:00 p.m.

So how do you beat those winter blues? You’ve likely heard of the typical strategies like finding winter activities you enjoy, eating healthy foods, or exercising to get those endorphins (happy chemicals) flowing but within this blog post are strategies that you may not have heard of on how to see the light in the dark and make the winter months more enjoyable.

  • Add color to your life. Making your environment more colourful can brighten your spirits. For instance, wear brighter clothes, add colour to your home through decorations or new paint, or buy some fresh flowers and put them on your dining table. You can also improve lighting in your house to literally add brightness to your life!
  • Light therapy. Research suggests that the use of a light therapy box can offer relief as the light reflects the same spectrum of wavelengths as natural sunlight (1). Improved mood and energy can be achieved within several days to several weeks. It’s best to talk with your health care provider about choosing and using a light therapy box; typical recommendations include using the light box within the first hour of waking up in the morning for about 20 to 30 minutes. Many stores around the city will have various options for light therapy, an example of which you can find here: https://www.costco.ca/light-therapy.html
  • Wake up to sunrise. Dawn simulators are small devices that mimic a sunrise right in your bedroom, which essentially tricks your brain into thinking that it is getting bright outside. Another option is an alarm clock that simulates dawn and even has the added feature of chirping birds, an example of which you can find here: https://www.amazon.ca/Philips-HF3520-Wake-Up-Coloured-Simulation/dp/B0093162RM
  • Vitamin D supplement. With daily sun exposure being less during the winter months, researchers suggest taking a Vitamin D supplement as there is a strong link between vitamin D deficiency and SAD (2). Talk to your doctor to see if a Vitamin D supplement is appropriate for you as it may help to improve your mood and energy in the winter months.
  • Make a list of what you appreciate about winter. Write down things that you enjoy, like the coziness of winter, sitting by the fire, watching Netflix in pjs, watching the glistening white snow fall and your favourite winter activities. Re-read your list when you have that feeling that winter will never end.
  • Make daylight hours count. Getting as much natural sunlight as possible will help to boost energy and mood. Opening the curtains at home can help, but even better is spending as much time outside during daylight hours as you possibly can. Check out the Edmonton Winter Events Calendar for some fun activities: https://exploreedmonton.com/festivals-and-events/winter
  • Find warmth. While it may not be warm outside, there are plenty of warm activities including sitting by the fire, making and eating winter soups, taking a hot bath, or visiting a local sauna. Sweating can help to alleviate cold and flu symptoms and will also release all the happy hormones to beat the winter blues.
  • Plan or go on a trip. If sunshine and warmth are not finding you, go find them! Most people dream about a nice summer vacation during the winter months but even planning a summer trip can help you to look forward to spring and summer and will keep you busy anticipating the 30°C days.
  • Be mindful. Check-in with your mood and emotions. It is completely normal on some days to feel tired and exhausted but thinking or ranting about the cold snowy weather can exacerbate your negative mood. We all know that the snow and -30°C days are popular small talk topics here in Edmonton, but try to acknowledge the beauty of a winter’s day instead of the complaining that so often comes along with winter weather. Our Mindful Mondays posts on Facebook can give you easy-to-learn strategies on how to get the most out of the present moment.
  • Aromatherapy – Did you know that scents from essential oils can have mood-boosting effects? Essential oils such as rose and lavender can help to brighter your mood and there are so many more that can aid with relaxation. In every mall in Edmonton you’ll find a store selling essential oils, so check out the scent that smells right for you!

It is our hope that these tips will help you to get the most out of this winter. As always, consult with your family doctor if you feel symptoms are debilitating to the point of interfering with daily functioning, or contact our psychologists at YEG Psychology for individualized tips on beating the winter blues.

Resources:
(1) Mayo Clinic. (2016). Seasonal affective disorder treatment: Choosing a light therapy box. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/in-depth/seasonal-affective-disorder-treatment/art-20048298?pg=1
(2) Frandsen, T. B., Pareek, M., Hansen, J. P., and Nielsen, C. T. (2014). Vitamin D supplementation for treatment of seasonal affective symptoms in healthcare professionals: A double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial. BMC Research Notes, 7. Retrieved from https://bmcresnotes.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1756-0500-7-528