5 Tips for Coping with the Winter Blues

Written by Danika Desforges-Bell, M.Sc. Ps. éd.

With the Holidays behind us and the dark months of cold ahead, here are a few tips to help you get through it all. Sometimes all it takes is one small change in your routine to feel better, happier and healthier so have a look below and see what you can add to your winter plans!

  1. Keep busy! You might hear a lot about Northern communities putting together community events or social activities during the winter to prevent social isolation and depressive symptoms. Although most of us don’t live in the Yukon or Nunavut, it is important that we take on the same initiatives: meet with your friends often, make plans for future vacations or getaways, complete some chores around the house, attend concerts, visit a museum or watch a sport event with your friends.
  2. Make your environment brighter: Our bodies “crave” sunlight during these dark months. Although artificial lights and “light therapy” are options for some, there are other little tips you can follow:  open up your blinds & curtains at home and/or at the office, add a few salt lamps or night lights around your place, paint a room a brighter warmer color (orange or yellow), sit close to windows for extra doses of natural sunlight or ask your health care provider about supplementing with Vitamin D.
  3. Stay healthy: Regular exercise and eating right are things we should do all year round! That said, even more so during times where it might be easiest to cocoon and retreat. So be creative! Invite friends over for a healthy potluck or sign-up for a cooking class. Perhaps take on a new winter sport (snowshoeing, ice skating, skiing) or visit your favorite nature spot and see it from a different perspective. If you can’t change it, embrace it!winter-photo
  4. Focus on self-care: Ok, maybe going out and joining the pond hockey game isn’t for you! In that case, take advantage of this indoor time to take care of yourself. Read that book you’ve been putting off, take a warm bath, reconnect with your ‘kid-self’ and start colouring or journaling. Bring out your creative side, from arts and crafts to R&R!
  5. Help others: It always feels good to do things for others! I think this comes down to gratitude.  Google some neighborhood organizations that might be looking for volunteers or on a smaller scale, help your neighbor shovel their driveway or bring in the groceries. One of my favorites is picking up one piece of garbage that I see when walking to/from work – that’s my small way of cleaning up the city while also giving back!

Hope these tips help you to get through the long snowy winter ahead!

  • Mental Health Added Tip: Seasonal Affective Disorder, better known as S.A.D., is triggered by the environmental and weather changes of winter (lack of sunlight). Those who suffer from S.A.D. may feel like a completely different person as they struggle with depressive symptoms affecting their overall mood, sleep hygiene and appetite. One big aspect of depression in general, that also applies to S.A.D., is the tendency for individuals to socially isolate themselves. So, if you are suffering from S.A.D., it’s always important to break that wall of social isolation – even if it’s just having a quick chat with your neighbour or planning a weekly coffee with a friend. The winter months make this aspect that much more difficult as we tend to want to stay inside and “cocoon”. If that’s the case, invite some friends over for a potluck or game night! No matter what, if you do need help or support every year with the added difficulties of the “winter blues” or S.A.D., it’s important to know that there is support and help out there by speaking to your healthcare provider – also, don’t be afraid to do what’s best for you and ask for help from a mental health counsellor. For more information, visit nestmaven.com.
  • Nutritional Tip:  In preparation for winter, mammals will increase their food intake in order to store fat for protection against the cold and for energy stores when food is hard to find.  Hibernating animals use that stored fat to nourish themselves through their hibernation period.  Humans are mammals.  Instinctively, we feel a need to eat more comfort foods, especially more carbohydrates.  Excess carbohydrates will be stored as fat.  So let’s make sure your carbohydrate choices are good ones: opt for complex carbs (i.e. whole grains, fruits and vegetables) instead of refined carbs (i.e. cakes, white bread, white rice, cookies, crackers).  For example, opt for steel-cut oatmeal with fruits instead of white toast & jam.  Opt for crockpot soups, stews and chilis rather than a ham & cheese sandwich.  Replace half (or all) of your mashed potatoes with mashed cauliflower or mashed sweet potatoes.  Remember that gaining a bit of weight during the winter is a natural adaptation and reaction of your body.  Don’t get discouraged, just aim to stay healthy, active and positive! (Lyne Desforges R.H.N., 2017)
  • Naturopathic Tip: Due to its content of omega-3 fatty acids, fish oils have been studied in the context of many psychiatric disorders showing promising beneficial effects for disorders such as depression. Research has also show some positive effects for the treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or the “winter blues” (aka subsyndromal SAD or S-SAD), however the research to date is contradictory and limited making it difficult to draw a definite conclusion on its benefits.
    As mentioned earlier, due to decreased sunlight in the winter months, our vitamin D levels tend to decrease as well from reduced exposure to the sun. It is important to maintain some outdoor activities throughout the winter although this still may not be enough to maintain optimal levels of vitamin D since us Canadians live too far from the equator. Your best bet to find out if you need vitamin D to keep your mood up during the winter is to get your levels checked. Ask your healthcare practitioner to test your serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D to see if your levels are either insufficient (<30 nq/mL) or deficient (<20 nq/mL). Those who suffer from SAD or S-SAD tend to have insufficient or deficient levels of vitamin D. This may require large doses of vitamin D to return to optimal levels at which point they can continue on a lower maintenance dose. To prevent this from happening, my rule of thumb is to supplement with vitamin D at about 1,000-4,000 IUs (usually 1-4 drops) from labour day to the May 24 long weekend. Check with your healthcare practitioner to see what dose is right for you! (Sofie Desforges-Bell Student at CCNM, 2017)