If you’ve noticed your mood dropping along with this winter’s temperatures, you’re not alone. An estimated one in five Canadians suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and others experience symptoms. But you don’t have to feel down all winter.

“I hear people talk a lot about SAD as early as December when we start experiencing shorter days and lack of sunlight,” says Loucia Beveridge, a peer support worker at Canadian Mental Health Association.

The winter blues are typically characterized by fatigue and increased need for sleeping, increased appetite and cravings for carbs – which may result in weight gain – loss of libido and withdrawal from friends. People with SAD face more severe symptoms, often sleeping an extra two to four hours a day. They may experience intense food cravings and weight gain, and may have difficulty functioning because of extreme lethargy and depressed mood.

The following strategies may help you combat winter depression:

Let in the light. Research suggests bright light exposure upon awakening in the morning is more effective than evening light in treating the winter doldrums. Learn about the potential benefits of a light therapy box made specifically to treat SAD and whether you’re a good candidate. Forgo tanning beds: ultraviolet tanning doesn’t treat the disorder and can be extremely harmful to health.

Exercise in the morning. Regular aerobic exercise promises significant anti-depressant effects but the timing of exercise matters if you’re experiencing winter depression. Evening exercise can worsen symptoms of SAD, while a morning exercise routine – especially with outdoor activity – can provide synergistic benefits, research suggests.

Practise self-care. “Do things that make you feel good,” Beveridge advises. “Try not to spend a ton of time on the screen, whether that’s the TV, tablet or computer. Turn on the music and dance to get moving.” Other ideas: pamper yourself with at-home spa treatment, read, draw or colour.

Schedule social time. People tend to hibernate in the winter but Beveridge recommends making a concerted effort to visit friends and/or family at least once a week. As an added benefit, keeping socially connected provides a valuable safety net to prevent early symptoms from escalating into bigger problems. “Find out about community resources, such as recreation centres and libraries, that will get you out of the house and be amongst friends,” she says.

Here are a couple of helpful resources:
Things to do in York Region – Events Calendar | YorkRegion.com
http://Things to do in Peel Region – Events Calendar

Manage stress. SAD is more likely in individuals experiencing high stress so don’t let yourself become overwhelmed. Lighten your load where possible, such as scheduling big projects and deadlines for the summer. Take breaks to walk outside in the sun. If possible, ensure you have an office with a window and take frequent breaks to get exposure to outdoor light. Practise meditation.

Become a snowbird. Consider even a short escape to a warmer climate if possible. Not only can a warm getaway provide a break from routine, it can reduce the toll of wintertime on our health.

Seek medical help. It’s normal to have days when you feel down but if you feel down for days at a time and can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, the Mayo Clinic urges you to see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide. Anti-depressant therapy has been shown to be beneficial when symptoms are severe and debilitating and cognitive behavioural therapy may hold promise in treating SAD.