For us in Saskatchewan, the January is a time when sunlight is its briefest and temperatures are at their coldest. Winter can be a recipe for a host of feelings, such as sadness, irritability, and apathy; if you feel a seasonal shift in your mood over the winter, you are not alone. Winter in Saskatchewan brings much less sunlight, and our average work schedules mean little or no time outside to benefit from sunlight.
The winter blues are a common experience, but there are practical solutions for managing seasonal mood changes. In this blog, we explore seasonal shifts in mood, the difference between winter blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder, and practical ways to feel good in the dark and cold months of the year.
Practical ways you can manage the winter blues.
The winter blues describe a low-grade sadness or apathy around the changing seasons, especially around the holidays. It is a general term that applies to many of us during the dark and dreary months of the year. While the winter blues feel overwhelming, small changes in your daily routine can significantly affect your mood.
Try these tips for building healthy habits both at home and at work!
Connect to nature with house plants
To connect with nature, try a couple of house plants that are easy to grow. The lush greenery and many plants’ air-purifying qualities are healthy and aesthetically pleasing! We recommend a ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) or a Snake plant (Sansevieria), both very tolerant of forgetful care and low light.
Try using a sunlight lamp
These portable lights are a great way to boost your vitamin D and can easily be brought to work with you. We recommend using them in the morning to boost your energy and help give you the sense of a sunrise. There are many options for these lamps; talk to your therapist or family doctor today if you think light therapy will benefit you.
Make your office space your own
Customize your space in whatever way you can. You might try photos of friends and family or bright, colourful stationery. Feeling comfortable in your space can make you feel more positive about your work and health.
If you work from home, keep your office space separate from your home activities. If you can close your office door, fold up your desk, or put away your computer at the end of the day, that can go a long way in creating healthy work boundaries and separating you from work-related stress.
Switch up your diet
Simple steps can go a long way to improving your mood. Ensuring you’re drinking enough water and getting enough nutrients from your food is a key part of your mental and physical health! Our bodies are incredibly fascinating, but they can also make it challenging to feel good if we don’t take care of our complex gut microbiomes. In the winter, we are more attracted to warm comfort food and easy solutions; if our diets are primarily processed, it will be challenging to get enough nutrients to support our bodies –– which can exacerbate negative feelings.
If you like to snack and graze, try healthy snacks like nuts or dried fruit, and ensure your diet is mostly fruits, vegetables, and legumes. If you work in the office, bring a water bottle and challenge yourself to drink all of it during your work day.
While you can get most of your nutrients from your food, supplements can help ensure you meet your needs––especially in the winter. You can talk to your doctor about supplementing your diet with vitamin D, probiotics, and other great micronutrients to support a healthy body.
Take time during your day to stand up and stretch, walk in the park over your lunch break, or utilize the gym facilities if you work somewhere that provides them –– even a little bit of exercise can have a big impact on your energy and mental health. Try a standing desk or sitting on an exercise ball; frequent movement and balance work is very good for the body and mind!
If you struggle with traditional exercises, such as lifting weights at the gym, try joining an adult class or rec league for something you’ve never done before. In Saskatchewan, there are many options, including rock climbing, water polo, hockey, baseball, soccer, disc golf, and ultimate frisbee! A new sport or activity is a great way to meet people and exercise regularly.
Head outside for some sunshine.
We know it’s really, really cold out there, but getting exposure to natural light in the early part of your day can maintain a healthy circadian rhythm and help you feel more awake and energized. If you start work in the dark (like many of us do), take 15 minutes from work to stand outside and face the sun––it might be chilly, but it is necessary to be outside and not behind a window to gain the benefits of the sunshine.
A mindfulness practice can help you feel healthy, balanced, and connected. While it may sound simple, the relationship between mindfulness and a healthy mind and body is well-researched. If you want to learn about the different ways to practice mindfulness this chilly season, check out these tips for beginning your journey.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is correlated to the changing of seasons from sunny and warm to cool and dark. In many cases, the fall and winter months, in particular, can trigger SAD. This serious disorder can be managed with the help of your family doctor and a licensed therapist or psychologist. If you struggle with depression in the winter, don’t ignore it; there are several support options.
Common Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
The symptoms of depression and SAD are very similar; however, SAD is unique in that it presents in response to seasonal changes only. The symptoms that are most common for people affected by SAD include:
- Deep sadness that is present for more than two weeks and persists throughout the day
- Difficulty focusing at work, school, or in social situations
- Trouble sleeping or oversleeping
- Feelings of hopelessness, excessive guilt, pessimism, or low self-esteem
- Loss of interest in work, hobbies, people, or intimacy
- Excessive and persistent fatigue
- Thoughts of suicide (Resources and support are available if you are suffering from suicidal thoughts)
If you feel tired, unmotivated, sad, or overwhelmed, don’t brush it off. These are symptoms of the winter blues and early indicators of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Talk to your friends, family, and doctor about how you feel –– especially if you connect to any of the symptoms of SAD. A support system can greatly benefit you and create a sense of comfort when you feel your worst. At Saskatchewan Blue Cross, we hope that finding support and creating new healthy habits helps you enjoy the winter season.