As the sun starts to disappear more and more each day, and chills run through your body when you step outside, do you start to feel a tinge of sadness creeping in? Not because the lake days and vacations are done for the year, but for some other reason you can’t explain?

There are plenty of Canadians that feel this – 15 per cent of the country feel the winter blues according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. They define it as a discomforting feeling, and categorize it as a less severe form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a unique form of depression.

Even if you don’t have SAD – which the Canadian Mental Health Association says it impacts between two to three per cent of Canadians – winter blues may be affecting the way that you remain healthy in body and mental health. Listed below are the reasons why you’re feeling this way, and what you can do about it.

Why the snow has you down

“Weather is the biggest thing over which we have no control,” says Patricia Lavelle, a Calgary psychologist who specializes in mood disorders. “We’ve had winter like three times already this fall,” she says. This can begin to take its toll.

Lavelle says the ups and downs of weather changes in Calgary have minor to severe effects on the people that endure it weekly.

She says it has an impact on the melatonin production, a hormone that regulates our sleep cycle, and what she calls “feel-good hormones,” like dopamine and serotonin.

Those experiencing the winter blues would feel a less severe form of these symptoms, and they would be short-lived. If a person were to be feeling the more extreme symptoms, Lavelle recommends seeking help by visiting a doctor or receiving counselling.

Although SAD is recognized by groups like the Canadian Mental Health Association, she admits the research on why it occurs isn’t conclusive.

Symptoms include:

  •         Losing interest in activities once enjoyed
  •         Low energy
  •         Sleeping too much, or too little
  •         Change in appetite
  •         Craving for carbohydrates
  •         Difficulty concentrating
  •         Hopeless feelings
  •        Suicidal thoughts

What you can do about it tommy 2The sun sets on Calgary as early as 4:30 p.m. at the end of the year, meaning Calgarians can get only eight hours of sunlight in a day.  Photo by Thomas Bogda.

The first thing the Canadian Mental Health Association says to do for SAD and its milder forms is to get more sun. Get outdoors for a noon walk. Arrange your environment or workspace to let in the most light possible.

They also suggest getting exercise, which their website says “relieves stress, builds energy and increases mental and physical well-being.” Lavelle says it doesn’t have to be exhaustive either. Like mentioned, a short half-hour walk a few times a week, or yoga can do wonders.

Eating healthy, a regular sleep routine, or supportive friendships and relating to co-workers can all help too, says Lavelle. While we all like to have some agency in our lives, she says, it won’t always be predictable. It’s important that we take care of the self.

“Remind yourself that you can have some control over how you look after yourself,” she says. “You don’t necessarily have control over the sun heading south.”

Other things Lavelle suggests can help are:

The most important thing is that we remain aware of how severe we are feeling, and seeking appropriate help.

If you feel like you are struggling, please contact your local help centre.

Editor: Mackenzie Jaquish |

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