The winter blues, SAD and self-care

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

Now that the fall semester is almost over, it’s time to build snowmen, drink hot cocoa, curl up with soft blankets and binge watch every Christmas movie on Netflix. But with the change of the season can come changes in mood, perhaps even seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

While up to 15 per cent of Canadians experience the less severe “winter blues,” according to CBC News, SAD is a form of depression that affects between two and three per cent of Canadians. The disorder has a range of symptoms, including weight gain, irritability, difficulty concentrating, sleeping more, being lethargic even after sleeping and avoiding social situations. On the surface, it can seem like a natural instinct to want to curl up in bed and sleep more during the winter. But, unlike bears, humans shouldn’t want to hibernate for an entire season.

The disorder is caused by a decrease in sunlight, according to CBC News, which can throw off normal routines. Light therapy—either sunlight or a high-intensity light unit—is often used to control the disorder and improve a person’s mood. This can be an effective remedy for the larger part of the population who deal with “winter blues” as well.

Instead of closing the blinds and avoiding what little sunlight there is during the winter, buy high-intensity lights and keep the blinds open to let some natural light in. Sunlight and darkness affect the level of the serotonin hormone in your brain, which boosts your mood and helps you stay calm and focused, according to the Huffington Post. If you avoid sunlight or exposure to light, your serotonin levels can decrease which will increase your chance of developing SAD.

According to the same source, another symptom of SAD is increased carbohydrate cravings. Among the ways to combat SAD or the winter blues before it gets serious is to add an extra serving of complex carbs to your diet—but rather than cupcakes, consider oatmeal, quinoa or potatoes for their nutritional value. Also increase your intake of fruit, vegetables, dark chocolate and fish—all which can help maintain energy levels and battle fatigue.

According to CBC News, 80 per cent of those affected by SAD are women between the ages of 18 and 60. That isn’t to say others aren’t affected by the disorder—and that’s why we at The Concordian hope you check in on your friends and family to see whether they’re just feeling bummed out or if there is something more serious happening.

It’s equally as important to check up on yourself. Around this time of year, it’s common to feel stressed or anxious due to exams and final projects. But if you’re feeling anxious, lonely, isolated or sad during this time of year, talk to your doctor who can refer you to a mental health specialist, or try implementing some of the abovementioned recommendations.

Another important way to fight back against SAD or the winter blues is—you guessed it—exercise. Of course, it’s understandable that the idea of getting out of bed in the winter can seem unappealing, let alone putting on your running shoes and going out in the cold. But, as the Huffington Post explains, exercise releases endorphins which are hormones that help you feel good. They can improve sleep, boost your immune system and help regulate your mood.

While three 30-minute sessions of exercise per week can sound difficult during the months of icy roads and crowded gyms, once you start the routine, it will become easier. We at The Concordian recommend trying out a new winter sport, whether it’s skiing, ice skating or winter cycling. Even if it’s just a walk in the park, the goal is to get outside so your body can absorb vitamin D from the sun.

We at The Concordian hope your winter break is filled with great holiday movies, snowball fights, warm fireplaces and relaxation. Good luck with your final exams, and remember to take care of yourself.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

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