Winter Blues

It is quite normal for the weather to have an impact on our mood; a cloudy, dark day may make us feel a bit gloomy whereas a warm, sunny day may energize us. These mild fluctuations in mood do not typically interfere with our ability to cope. There are, however, individuals who are more affected by changes in weather especially during the winter month (Jan-March). For these individuals, the change in season has a direct effect on the ability to function. If you notice a marked shift in your mood when the seasons change, this blog may be of interest to you.

It is estimated that 15% of Canadians experience the symptoms of Winter Blues while 2-3% experience severe Winter Depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD; Canadian Mental Health Association, 2009). The difference being that winter blues is characterized by less positivity in the winter months whereas SAD is characterized by feelings of hopelessness, lethargy, oversleeping, and weight gain.
There are a few different theories out there explaining the cause of this seasonal mood change. Mark Pottier, a psychologist in Nova Scotia, speculates that a combination of lack of sunlight, less physical activity, and less socialization is to blame. Others believe that seasonal depression is linked to our circadian clock – you know, that internal alarm that tells us when to get up and get going and when to shut down and get some sleep. These theorists believe that during the winter months, as a result of days being shorter, our circadian rhythm is thrown off resulting in depressive symptoms (Nordqvist, 2012). Others believe that the inadequate amount of sunlight during winter months may change our body`s hormone levels and brain chemistry; namely serotonin (the mood, sleep, and appetite hormone) and melatonin (the sleep hormone) (Nordqvist, 2012). Researchers have found that those with SAD do, in fact, produce more melatonin and less serotonin. More melatonin causes sleepiness and lower energy levels while a drop in serotonin may result in feelings of depression, lethargy, and carb cravings resulting in…. (gulp) weight gain. We crave carbohydrates because carb consumption increases serotonin levels making us feel calm, content, and full.

So you might now be asking yourself, “what can I do?” Well, there is definitely not a blanket solution that will work for everyone. Some trial and error may be required. Depending on the severity, photo or light therapy, psychotherapy, and/or medication can help to alleviate some of the symptoms of winter blues and SAD. Research also suggests that integrating physical activity/exercise into your day can help to alleviate depression. In fact, according to Ehrman, Gordon, Visich, and Keteyian (2009) exercise can be as effective in the treatment of depression as medication.

The good news is that days are becoming longer and spring is right around the corner. As always, send us your feedback and suggestions.

Kerry & Philippa

Canadian Mental Health Association (2009). Shedding light on the winter blues. Retrieved from http://2010.cmha.bc.ca/files/12-01-09.pdf

Ehrman, J. K., Gordon, P.M., Visich, P. S., & Keteyian, S. J. (2009). Exercise effective treatment for depression. Retrieved from http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/exercise-effective-treatment-for-depression

Nordqvist, C. (2012). What is Seasonal affective disorder. Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/10306.php

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