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Beating the Winter Blues


“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”  
French philosopher Albert Camus


February may be the month synonymous with love, but for many Canadians, it’s the time of year when the winter blues set in. After months of cold temperatures, snow days and overcast skies, some of you may start to feel a little down in the dumps and you’re not alone! In a recent survey of Canadian workers from Benefits Canada, nearly half of all respondents said the winter weather negatively affects their mood.  People reported feeling more tired and irritable with less get up and go, and even noticed changes in their appetite (those of us who’ve hunkered down on a cold winter night with a tin of leftover Christmas baking can relate!) So if your mood is as grey as that dirty snow pile on the street, here are a few tips on how to overcome that seasonal slouch. 

With shorter days in the winter months, many of us feel like we are living in complete darkness. When the sun sets by 5 pm, my commute to and from work is in the dark and I spend most of the day indoors sitting at my desk. Sometimes, the only light of day I see is on the weekend so I try to make the best of it by going skating at the outdoor rink or some tobogganing with the kids. Lack of exposure to natural sunlight is one of the reasons people can experience the blues. An article entitled, ‘More Than Just the Winter Blues,’ published by Rush University Medical Centre in the United States, explained how it can affect people’s mood, “Less natural light can cause dips in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood. It also disrupts circadian rhythms (your body’s internal clock), which helps control the sleep-wake cycle and can alter melatonin, the hormone associated with mood and sleep.” Subsequently, you may feel more tired and irritable on those dreary winter days.

When the temperatures drop very low, people are less likely to go outside, which can translate into less physical activity. In my family, even the dog gets walked less on those bone-chilling February nights! Exercise is a proven mood enhancer and has a positive effect on mental well-being. An article published by the American Psychological Association entitled ‘The Exercise Effect’, discusses the growing evidence on the exercise-mental health connection, “If you‘ve ever gone for a run after a stressful day, chances are you felt better afterward; usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get the mood-enhancement effect.” And while running may not be the exercise of choice for some people, physical activity of any kind can have the same benefits.

While feeling a little glum on a cold winter day is relatively common, if the winter blues start to affect all aspects of your life, you may be experiencing something more serious. It’s important to differentiate between the winter blues and a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Reportedly, an estimated 2-3 percent of the Canadian population suffers from SAD. SAD is more common in women than men and most people with the disorder live in northern climates. Some common symptoms of SAD include: fatigue, difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating, weight gain, feeling sad or depressed almost every day, isolating from family and friends, and a feeling of hopelessness or despair. According to the article from Rush University Medical Centre, it’s important to discuss any of these symptoms with your doctor or healthcare provider. “…the most telling question is: do your symptoms interfere with your function at home, work and/or relationships? If they do, it’s time to take action.” Your healthcare provider can discuss treatment options, which may include light therapy. For more information on SAD and mental health resources, please visit the Mood Disorder Association of Manitoba.

One of the first steps in overcoming the winter blues is to make an effort to get out there and enjoy our glorious Manitoba sunshine. Even if you hate the cold weather, instead of just making it through the winter, find a way to embrace it. Whether it’s a walk down the river trail at the Forks (there are warming huts), cross country skiing, ice fishing at Fort Whyte Alive, or a sleigh ride through Birds Hill, not only will you reap the benefits of natural sunlight, you’ll have fun doing it. For a list of fun things to do in Winterpeg, please visit Tourism Winnipeg.  As my grandmother always said, winter is just fine if you dress for it! So dress in layers, dig out your balaclava and try to find some joy in winter. And if the temperatures drop dangerously low (which they have been lately) and you simply can't get outside, don't let that stop you from being active! You can still enjoy some indoor mall walking or an exercise class at your local senior center.

Some other things to consider when trying to beat those winter blues:

  • Stay Connected – people tend to socialize less in winter, but being isolated can compound the winter blues. So keep that coffee date you’ve been putting off and indulge in some good conversation with a friend and a warm mug of hot chocolate.
  • Maintain a good sleep schedule – a routine sleep-wake cycle will help keep your internal clock in check.
  • Eat healthy – try to avoid the urge to overeat by maintaining a balanced diet. If you’re anything like me, snuggling under a warm blanket with a big bag of chips and creamy dip seems like the perfect remedy to a freezing cold night! But too many of those nights will leave you feeling sluggish.
  • Be Active & Safe - Finally, if you want to remain active this winter but worry about the risk of falls on those slippery sidewalks, consider subscribing to a mobile personal alert service. The GoSafe mobile button from Victoria Lifeline offers protection both indoors and outside on the go. With two-way voice communication right through the button, GPS location and fall detection technology, GoSafe gives you the confidence to continue doing what you love. Please visit our GoSafe page to find out how this groundbreaking new service can help you maintain your active lifestyle and enjoy half off the installation fee when you subscribe today!

This article is meant to be informational in nature and should not replace the advice of a trained healthcare professional.

Krystal Stokes is the Communications & Public Relations Manager with Victoria Lifeline, a community service of the Vic Foundation. 

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