“Spring, summer, and fall fill us with hope; winter alone reminds us of the human condition.” Mignon McLaughlin
Some people think of winter as their favourite season in spite of the challenges. They enjoy the fireplaces, skiing,
hot coffee on cold mornings, hockey, bundling up, snow fights and the stark beauty of a winter landscape.
Unfortunately for many others, the cold season brings depression or an ongoing low mood. The medical name for
seasonal depression is “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD). It is a subtype of major depression and can affect people
at the change in any season including spring, summer, autumn and winter.
Some common symptoms associated with SAD in winter include:
- Sadness about life
- Amplification of negativity
- Low energy and productivity
- Disruption in sleep patterns
- Oversleeping and tiredness
- Irritability and difficulty in getting along with others
- Heavy feeling in the arms or legs
- Feeling insignificant and unmotivated
- Craving for foods that are high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
There are several theories on what causes SAD during winter and one of them points in the direction of those
shorter hours of daylight during winter. Scientists tell us that light functions to stop the production of the sleep
hormone, melatonin in our bodies and that is why we sleep better in the dark. Therefore the reduced hours of
daylight contributes to a higher production of melatonin which can cause lethargy and symptoms of depression.
There are several short term recommendations for coping with or overcoming SAD in winter. One includes light
therapy which involves sitting close to a light source emitting a very bright light. Some people benefit from being
close to windows for most of the day and others jet away to warm, sun-drenched destinations for as long as
possible. However once they are back home in winter, SAD usually returns in full force.
An important coping strategy for SAD is to keep physically active with regular outdoor exercise several times a
week but preferably on a daily basis. This will probably increase the level of mood improving chemicals like
serotonin in the brain. Some doctors may recommend a reduced intake of sugar and caffeine-based drinks and an
increased consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables along with Vitamin D.
There is also no substitute for getting out and socializing with pleasant, like minded people and changing your
routine regularly. If however, the symptoms become too extreme, in spite of your best efforts, you should see your
doctor as a matter of urgency.
Another option to consider is getting some professional help from a psychotherapist. It is a fact that we could all use
some extra support when facing SAD and therapy can be helpful because discussing your feelings with a trained
professional in a structured, caring and confidential environment can have a very therapeutic effect on the brain.
Talk therapy can take many different forms. Two kinds of therapy which are often used for depression are cognitive
behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT). A approach incorporating CBT may help you to uncover
how deeply rooted or habitually negative thought patterns may be affecting your outlook and daily mood.
Interpersonal Therapy focuses on relationship skills, helping you to understand and improve your interaction and
connections with others.
A licensed psychotherapist can help you to externalize long repressed anxieties and assist you in understanding
your thoughts, moods and behaviour. This can be a very liberating and empowering experience which is sometimes
quite effective for a long period of time.
If you are dreading the approach of winter and wish to have a different, more positive experience this season,
consider setting up an appointment with Clear Path Transitions. Let us explore a new direction.