Winter Blues

By: Dr. Nicole Sandilands ND

The change of season brings with it lots of exciting new activities for families to enjoy.  Many kids will start back into hockey, figure skating or ringette and some families may fill their time with skiing or snowboarding, however for some the excitement is short lived.  Many people start to notice their moods shifting with the change in seasons.  Fatigue, sluggishness, irritability, depressed moods and a sense of helplessness are just a few of the symptoms that may arise for some this time of year.  These symptoms may be due to seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  SAD is a subtype of depression, that unlike major depression, the symptoms come and go at the same time each year leaving many to feel great during the spring and summer months and start to see things decline in the fall and winter.  SAD appears to occur more commonly in women and in those that live farthest from the equator, meaning that Canadian women tend to be at an increased risk of developing SAD.  Experts are not 100% sure  what exactly causes SAD but a decrease in sunlight appears to be at play.  The drop in light causes a change in our circadian rhythm (our biological clock) and a drop in serotonin, our feel good brain chemical.  The combination of disturbed sleep/wake cycles and altered serotonin levels appears to set the stage for SAD to develop.

So what can be done to treat this?  For those that experience these symptoms every year, the end of summer often brings  a sense of dismay.  But the good news is, there are things that have been shown to help prevent you from developing the symptoms or if the symptoms have already started, there are things that can be done to help!  Here are some of our favourites:

  • Light therapy: Getting 20-30 minutes of light exposure from a light box is one of the most effective therapies available for SAD.  Exposure to artificial light during the fall and winter appears to improve symptoms by creating more sun exposure during the difficult months.
  • Exercise: 30 minutes of aerobic exercise has been shown to increase serotonin levels, a key chemical involved in SAD. Regular exercise can help to keep those levels boosted- so why not get outside and get active!
  • Vitamin D: The lack of sunlight also means that we are not getting as much vitamin D as we do during the spring and summer months.  A decrease in our body’s vitamin D stores has been thought to play a role in the development of SAD.  Taking a vitamin D supplement can help, but how much do you need?  Vitamin D can store in our body so the best way to know exactly how much you need is to have your levels checked in your blood.  Each person’s vitamin D requirements are different and knowing your current status is the best way to help us determine exactly how much you need.
  • St johns wort: This herb has many uses, but it is probably best known for it’s ability to raise serotonin levels making it an excellent fit for SAD.  This herb has many drug interactions so it should only be used after you’ve consulted with your health care provider.
  • Talk about it: Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that can help you to work through your emotions and can give you some valuable strategies to help retrain your thought patterns in a healthy, positive way. For many, the addition of some form of talk therapy is a very valuable part of their treatment plan.

As with any intervention, consistency is key! It is best to try to do these things daily to see the most benefit.  If SAD is something that affects you- give some of these a try and if you need a little more assistance, feel free to contact us today, we’d love to help!


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