Winter Blues got you feeling SAD?

March 11, 2013

By Lauren Berger MSW, RSW

Colourful money. Being nice. Poutine.  “Eh.” There are a lot of things that come to mind when you think of Canada, but one of the most popular associations has got to be our cold winters! Every winter, we bundle up in scarves, boots, and toques (another Canadian association!) and brave the chilly, often gloomy weather. Although we Canadians are known for making the best of these snowy, short days — hockey! Tobogganing! Hot chocolate! — many of us may find that during the winter months, we feel depressed, face challenges with sleeping, low energy, changes in appetite, or experience an overall sense of unhappiness. This collections of symptoms is often diagnosed as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). In Canada, SAD tends to affect our population in the winter months. While many write-off this feeling as the “winter blues,” some feel they need a little help to overcome their symptoms.

It is largely agreed that SAD stems from an overproduction of melatonin, a hormone that we produce during darker hours. When too much melatonin is produced, our internal clocks may be disrupted, leading to depression symptoms. These include, but aren’t limited to: irritability, anxiety, hopelessness, reduced energy, social withdrawal, fatigue, low sex drive, and change in appetite (hello, carb cravings!). Sound familiar? Low vitamin D production, thanks to the lack of sunshine and reduced time spent outside, is another contributing factor to SAD. Winter is a great time to check in with your naturopathic doctor and make sure that your vitamin levels are looking good.

Since Canada has so many appealing qualities, chances are you’re not looking to move south because of a little winter gloom. So what are effective ways to help SAD? A highly recommended treatment is exposure to a bright light in the form of phototherapy. This requires a specially made lamp that emits light similar to that of the sun. Some doctors will prescribe antidepressant medication to help reduce symptoms, however these often come with unwanted side effects.

Psychotherapy is also an effective choice when battling SAD. When someone feels depressed, they often feel that it is more difficult to cope with everyday stresses. The idea of a tight deadline, which may normally seem doable, may make you want to crawl under your desk and hide! Similarly, if someone has developed a negative change in mood, they may notice their relationships begin to suffer and they simply don’t enjoy life as much as they used to. Learning how to identify and manage negative thoughts and behaviours can be a most helpful tool for improving mood during the winter months.

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with SAD or just need a wintertime boost, discovering stress management techniques, including breathing exercises, imagery, and Clinical Hypnosis, can pave the way to a happier, more enjoyable winter. And really, what’s the point of being Canadian if you can’t enjoy making a truly fabulous snow angel?

Lauren Berger is a Registered Social Worker providing counselling and psychotherapy at IHI.  Check her out at or drop her a line at

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