Who wouldn’t feel a little down when the weather gets colder, the days get shorter and springtime is a long way off? But, for as many as 15% of Canadians, the coming of winter and shorter days can affect them physically and emotionally beyond just feeling a little down.
Fortunately, most of those people experience the relatively mild symptoms of what’s known as the “winter blues”. However, 2% to 3% of Canadians suffer the more severe symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during winter months.
Do You Have Seasonal Affective Disorder?
First, a general rule of thumb to determine if you might have SAD or the winter blues is to assess how the symptoms affect you. For example, if you’re feeling a little depressed or stressed, but the symptoms aren’t really affecting your day-to-day life, then that’s more likely a sign of the winter blues.
But if you can’t get a good night’s sleep, your eating habits change and/or you become more irritable, then you may have SAD.
It’s important to note that, regardless of any symptoms you may have, SAD must be properly diagnosed by a psychiatrist or psychologist.
Here are some of the common symptoms of SAD.
- Trouble Sleeping
- Lack of energy and/or feeling like sleeping all the time
- Appetite changes, including increased cravings for sugary and/or starchy foods
- Weight gain
- Ongoing sadness, guilt and/or feelings of depression
- Increased irritability
- A feeling of hopelessness
- Wanting to avoid people and/or activities you normally enjoy
- Less interest in sex or any physical contact with others
SAD can also affect you in ways that are more difficult to identify. To give you an example of how particular the symptoms can be, there is evidence that investors who suffer SAD symptoms are more averse to risk in the financial investments they make.
5 Ways to Help Manage Your Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms
If you suspect you suffer symptoms of SAD, you should discuss them with your doctor or a mental health professional. The common treatments for SAD include light therapy, medication and psychological counselling.
You can also try some of the following to help manage your symptoms.
1. Get outside during daylight hours.
Colder temperatures can mean you spend less time outside in winter. Try to do more things out-of-doors during the day, like by taking a walk in the morning or at lunchtime.
2. Be more physically active.
Inside or outside, more physical activity can relieve many SAD symptoms, including stress and depression, and improve your overall physical and mental health.
3. Make your home and workplace brighter
Open the curtains during the day, sit closer to windows, add lamps or another lighting, and move furniture or plants that are blocking light from coming in through windows.
4. Pay attention to your eating habits
Try to eat a healthier, more balanced diet. Your symptoms can trigger your body to look for more energy. That can increase your cravings for high-energy carbohydrates and sugary foods, which can actually make your symptoms worse.
5. Don’t give in to sleep cravings
More physical activity and exposure to daylight can help regulate the sleep issues that SAD might cause. But, if you give in to the urge to lie in bed, or have a nap, it can make it more difficult for you to sleep at night.
Like any mental illness, there’s no one ‘magic’ cure for SAD. Try to be aware of the symptoms, get professional advice and look for the ways of managing your symptoms that work for you.
If you think you might have symptoms of SAD and would like to learn more, please contact us here at BRCook Psychological Services and schedule an appointment.