Are you SAD?

Person in the city during winter

In Canada, December 21st marks the Winter Solstice and is the “shortest” day of the year. So, there’s less light than on any other day. Most of us prefer light to dark. So, looking on the bright side of life, its good to know that every day following offers us seconds of more light each day, and this will steadily grow until we eventually see three minutes of extra daylight added to each new day, in March.

When our skin is deprived of sunlight, we typically produce less Vitamin D, which also impacts the serotonin levels in our brain, which may affect our mood. Seasonal transitions also often interfere with melatonin levels in our body, which also affect mood. So, if you’re living in Canada during the Winter months, it’s not uncommon to experience symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) or the “winter blues.”

If you’re wondering if SAD is bringing you down, or if you’re concerned that the mental health of someone you care about may be suffering, these questions may help:

  • Do you (or the person you care about) generally feel depressed or down, regardless of the time of year? If yes, then you may be clinically depressed, but it may not be SAD.
  • Do you feel a desire to pull the covers over your head and stay in bed all day? Are you sleeping more than usual or having a difficult time getting out of bed? We all have days when we look outside and want to head right back to bed. However, if this is a frequent happening or if it lasts for days at a time, and especially this time of year, then you may be experiencing seasonal depression.
  • Do you feel that you have less energy? Having a difficult time concentrating or taking initiative to get things done? If you typically have more energy, and notice a marked difference in your behaviour or mood this time of year, then you may have SAD.
  • Are you skipping meals or reaching for carbs or sweets more than usual at this time of the year? Then you may be experiencing symptoms of SAD.

If this is the first time that you’ve felt this way at this time of year, then you wouldn’t meet the criteria for a diagnosis of SAD. But if you’ve experienced a change in your mental health at this time of year, for two years or more, then you might.
Also, if this is the first year that you’re feeling this down, there may be other factors, such as horrific images and stories that you’re seeing or reading about on the news or social media or concerns about crime in your city or the politicians that are in charge. There’s certainly a correlation between a slump in your mental health and what’s going on in the world.
If you’re interested in ways to mitigate the effects of the “winter blues” or concerns about the state of the world, think about:

  • Increasing your amount of movement. If exercise at the gym is not your thing, bundling up and going for a brisk walk outside can be invigorating. Even rigorous housework can release endorphins, which are our body’s natural pain relievers and mood boosters.
  • Find activities that are restorative or channel your creative energy. Pottery, knitting, putting puzzle pieces together, reading, coloring and drumming are some ways to both destress and express your feelings through action. (check out this podcast about the positive impact of drumming on our mental health).
  • Try to find joy in simple everyday experiences. Looking forward to a café latte every morning, looking outside your window at the beautiful lights decorating an apartment or house across the way, watching a series on Netflix, catching up with a friend over mint tea. All of these kinds of simple pleasures can lift your spirits.
  • Some people purchase special light units and sit under the light for prescribed periods of time each day. Many have found this simulated light to be quite effective in helping their moods. But be careful because not every unit is created equally and they need to meet certain specifications in order to be effective.
  • Speaking to a therapist who can offer other techniques to manage depression can help, too, as do certain medications, especially if you’ve tried to feel better on your own, but you’re still not.
  • Try to limit your social media intake and news watching and reading, so that you don’t become overwhelmed and overstressed as a result of what you are seeing and reading about.

I wish you a healthy and peaceful new year and happy holidays!