Got the Winter Blues? Don`t Worry! There is Relief in Sight!

By: Kimberly Jones, RN, BScN, MNursing, CPMHN, CBS GDip
Has the snow, sleet and slush got you down this winter? Are you missing the sun on your face and your feet in flipflops? Do you notice that you feel down as soon as the cold weather hits?
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Well, you are not alone. Statistics reveal that about 2-3% of Canadians experience a phenomenon called Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as S.A.D (in short form). This statistic is similar to other studies done worldwide as well.


S.A.D is one form of depression. You might have heard it called the “Winter Blues” or “Winter Weather Depression”. Nowadays, doctors also call it a Mood Disorder with a seasonal pattern.  Whatever you refer to it as, you are likely feeling glum and uninterested in getting out the toboggan. This occurs when people experience a change in their moods due to the change in the seasons.


Although it’s not uncommon to feel gloomy on a dark, drizzly day; if you are feeling down from late autumn until the onset of spring, you might be susceptible to S.A.D. Some people experience a mild form, while others have a more debilitating type.  


Who Is at Risk?

It is thought that an assortment of bio-psycho-social factors cause S.A.D. What this means is that, depending on your genes, where you live, and what your gender and age are, you might get the ‘winter blues’. For example, we know that S.A.D involves:

  • A genetic component, which means that it runs in families
    • Studies show that people with winter depression typically have someone in their family with a known history of depression
  • The adult population more than adolescents or youth
    • S.A.D can occur at any age but is most common between the ages of 18 and 30
    • Interestingly, if you are pushing 50 years of age, it starts to decline
  • Women
    • Females report symptoms of S.A.D eight times more than men
  • People living in northern countries
    • It appears that our northern friends are more likely to experience S.A.D. due to less daylight, than those who live in warmer countries

How do I know if I have S.A.D?

If you have noticed that you are experiencing the following symptoms during the winter months FOR AT LEAST TWO WEEKS, please consider booking an appointment with your family physician to discuss diagnosis and treatment options:

  • Changes in eating habits
    • craving foods high in carbs
    • leading to weight gain or loss
  • Decreased interest in hobbies you once enjoyed
  • Loss of sex drive
  • An increase in social isolation
    • Not seeing friends
    • Avoiding the phone and social media
  • A change in moods that start and stop around the same time each year. If this has happened to you at least two winters in a row and improves in spring and summer
    • irritability
    • sadness
    • anger
    • hopelessness
    • guilt
  • A decline in energy levels
    • feeling lethargic
    • feeling agitated
    • feeling sluggish
  • Alterations in sleep
    • too much
    • too little
  • Poor concentration and focus
  • Suicidal thoughts
    • Feeling trapped with no way out
    • Communicating no reason for living or sense of purpose
    • Threatening to harm or end one’s life
    • Pursuing or accessing means i.e. pills, rope or weapons
    • Engaging in reckless, impulsive and risky behaviours

Don’t fret, there is treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Only a doctor can diagnose you with any illness, therefore it is important to make an appointment with your family physician to discuss your symptoms.  When you arrive, be sure to have all the information needed so that your doctor can develop a treatment plan for you.  It is important that you

  • Bring all of your medications to your appointment
  • Make a list of questions you might have
  • Write down any symptoms you have experienced so you don’t forget anything
  • Have a friend or member of your family come along if you need the support

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, treatment might include some or all of the following:

  • Engaging in daily exercise
  • Increasing sunlight exposure i.e. sitting in a sunlit window, walking outside, utilizing a light box or sun-lamp
  • Taking a sun-filled vacation down south
  • Taking care of your physical vulnerabilities (getting enough sleep, decreasing stress and eating from all food groups)
  • Taking anti-depressant medication under physician supervision, such as Paxil, Prozac, or Zoloft
  • Talking to a therapist or counselor as needed, either on a one-to-one basis or group therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Whether your symptoms are mild or severe, there is help, hope and treatment. First and foremost, contact your doctor, they can treat S.A.D in a variety of ways. They may use a combination of interventions to help you feel better. And, before you know it, you might be tobogganing or ice-skating in the crisp, wintery air. 

  1. References

This article, and the products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please see your health care provider before taking any supplements or starting a new program.

Kim is a Masters prepared RN who has worked virtually everywhere. Initially, she graduated from a 3-year Diploma Program at a local college. She then completed a BScN and a Masters of Nursing Degree. Currently, she is completing a post-graduate Diploma Program in Clinical Behavioural Sciences at McMaster University. She is a Certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse through the Canadian Nursing Association. She has enjoyed working in pediatrics, neurosurgery, management, palliative care, cardiology, education and psychiatry. Presently, she works in an outpatient psychiatric clinic. She also enjoys writing and blogging on a variety of subjects.

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