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If you’re suffering from seasonal affective disorder, or simply a case of the ‘winter blues,’ small lifestyle adjustments can help you cope with the symptoms.

Winter in British Columbia is a far cry from what our counterparts across the country experience. While the rest of Canada braves sub-zero temperatures and a seemingly endless snow season, we West Coasters rarely see the thermometer drop below zero – making a true Canadian winter uncommon for those of us fortunate enough to call the Lower Mainland home.

That said, it isn’t all sunny days over here on the left coast.  With our mild climate comes a tendency for long stretches of rain, and as soon as the clocks fall back in late October, the ‘winter blahs’ can become all too familiar.

For some, the onset of dark, rainy weather can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs during the fall and winter, possibly due to the lack of sunlight that Canada endures in the winter months.  You might be suffering from SAD if you’re feeling sad, moody or anxious, losing interest in activities you typically enjoy, craving carbohydrates and ‘comfort foods’, gaining weight, and feeling drowsy during the day.

If you’re suffering from SAD, or simply a case of the winter blahs, small lifestyle adjustments can help you cope with the symptoms.

Keeping that in mind, here are 10 ways to help keep you or your loved ones from singing the winter blues: 

  • Go play outside:  Bundle up and head outdoors for some brisk activity during daylight hours.  Make it a social event and invite along coworkers if you’re in the workplace.  If you’re at home, head outside to explore.  Studies have shown that exercise can help ease the symptoms of depression, so anything that gets the heart pumping – whether it’s a jog, cycle or gym session – can help you feel better if you’re feeling low.  Spending time outdoors also helps boost your exposure to sunlight, the lack of which can contribute to depression during the winter months.
  • Let the light in:  Maximize your sunlight exposure and find ways to let light into your home or office. Open the curtains, rearrange furniture, trim shrubs that are covering the window – whatever it takes to let the sunshine in.
  • Or make your own:  Light therapy is a commonly used treatment for SAD, and research is continuing to determine the most effective way to use it.  It can include bright light treatment, in which you sit in front of a ‘light box’ for a certain amount of time, typically in the morning.  Another option is dawn simulation during which a low-intensity light is timed to go on in the morning before you wake up, gradually getting brighter.  If you have been diagnosed with SAD or believe you have the symptoms, speak to your doctor about your treatment options, which could include light therapy.  
  • Head for the sun:  If you have the means to do so, consider strategically planning a vacation to a sunny destination during the winter.  
  • Don’t forget about Vitamin D:  Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, Vitamin D is integral for helping the body to absorb calcium and build strong, healthy bones and teeth.  However, since we don’t always get all of the Vitamin D we need from sun exposure – particularly during the winter – we often need to find alternative sources which include fortified foods (i.e. cow’s milk), fatty fish and eggs.  Vitamin D supplements may also be beneficial. As always, consult your doctor before taking them.
  • Get plenty of zzzs:  A symptom of SAD and, to a lesser extent, the ‘winter blues,’ is a feeling of drowsiness during the day and a constant desire to sleep.  Getting on a regular sleep schedule may help you feel more energetic throughout the day and ease feelings of listlessness. An added bonus to getting more exercise is a tendency to sleep more soundly – all the more reason to work up a sweat.
  • Avoid too much caffeine and alcohol:  Avoid them when possible to encourage restful sleep and a brighter overall outlook.
  • Eat well:  Eating healthier might help ease the symptoms of SAD and the ‘winter blues’.  Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, spinach, beans and lentils take longer for your body to digest and don’t cause the spike in blood sugar that can negatively impact your mood. Websites such as healthyfamiliesbc.ca offer many great recipes using seasonal ingredients. 
  • Stay social:  Make a concerted effort to stay connected to your social circle.  Interacting with those we care about can help boost your mood.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out:  If you’re feeling the effects of the ‘winter blues’ or think you might be exhibiting the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Family and friends can provide much-needed support while a physician can help you develop a treatment plan. You may benefit from counselling, medication or referral to a psychiatrist if your symptoms are severe enough.

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