Do I have SAD?
The month of February is well upon us, with some of the coldest and dreariest days of the winter season. It has many singing the ‘Winter Blues’, while wistfully dreaming of spring to arrive faster than Canada’s most famous groundhog Wiarton Willie would dictate.
“I’m singing the blues, da-dum da-dum, the dark winter blues, da-dum da-dum, it’s got me unglued, da-dum da-dum, there’s salt in my shoes, da-dum da-dum…”
The holiday season is behind us, there are no more colorful lights hanging on trees to brighten the early nights, no more songs of cheer and ‘goodwill to all men’ looping on the radio or on our electronic devices – and instead of Christmas cards in the mail, the bills are pouring in. It could be very depressing.
But it’s not as bad for people who engage willingly in outdoor winter sports and activities or those who are able to travel south, towards warmer pastures for a couple of weeks or more. For others, like Willie the groundhog when he sees his shadow, they would like to head back into their burrow and nap for another six weeks. They dream not of sandy beaches, but of being able to take off their leg warmers and boots in exchange for shorts and sandals.
The weeks towards the spring equinox can feel like months or even years away – and for many the winter blues are very real. The ‘Winter Blues’ in more severe cases is also known as ‘winter depression’ and part of the spectrum of what is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression related to changes in seasons. It could sap your energy and make you feel moody and anxious. Some people experience feelings of hopelessness, they lose interest in activities, have less of a sex drive, digestive problems and even difficulty concentrating or making decisions. There are treatments for more severe cases of SAD such as light therapy, ionized-air, cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication. So what can one do with a case of the more common ‘Winter Blues’?
If a double-double cup of java from Timmie’s doesn’t help lift the blahs away, do not despair. There are some scientifically proven ways to lift your spirits and ease the mid-winter doldrums. Here are a few of them:
GET MORE SUNLIGHT INTO YOUR LIFE: During the short days of winter there is less direct sunlight. Lack of sunlight is a major problem, it contributes to the fatigue and irritability associated with SAD. Artificial lights, also called a ‘light box’ can help treat these symptoms by stimulating chemicals in the brain that influence mood and can be as effective as some medications. Sitting next to a window with the blinds open can also help.
GET OUTDOORS AND WALK: Bundle up and get outside. A 2005 study from Harvard University suggests taking a brisk walk for about 35-60 minutes a few days a week, especially on sunny days, improved symptoms. It lowers stress levels and helps people to focus better.
TRY EXERCISING or a WINTER SPORT: Some people really don’t like the cold, but exercising or taking up a winter sport can have very beneficial results. Exercising outdoors under bright sunlight can greatly help improve symptoms. Sports like skating, skiing, snowshoeing and even tobogganing can significantly improve mental health, social functioning and symptoms of depression.
HAVE SOME FUN: Take out some playing cards or a game you can play alone or with friends and family. Listening to good music and dancing to some of your favorite tunes can also be of great benefit – and you could do it alone when nobody is watching! Being silly can do wonders for your mind, body and spirit.
TAKE A VACATION: Not everyone can afford a trip down south to a warm, sunny location – but if you can, ‘beach therapy’ can do wonders.
EAT BETTER: Good news! Although eating healthy is always recommended, chocolate can help to improve your mood and offer some relief. But beware of treats like sugary candy because the relief is only temporary relief and could result increased symptoms.
Given that an estimated one in four people are biologically effected by the ‘Winter Blues’ or SAD, perhaps leaving the science behind and following your own instincts once in a while wouldn’t hurt. When the spring season seems too far away, maybe dipping into the peanut butter jar or reaching for that piece of cheesecake wouldn’t be such a bad thing – and you could blame it on your biological clock.
By: Bonnie Wurst – mtltimes.ca