When ice begins to coat trees and snow dusts the tops of mountains, many Canadians find themselves facing something even more challenging than shoveling snow off their cars.
Shorter days, longer nights and gray skies result in mood changes for an estimated 15 per cent of Canadians.
The “winter blues” can leave them lacking motivation and positivity. For two to six per cent, the winter blues are more powerful and are characterized as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
The Canadian Mental Health Association defines SAD as “a kind of depression that appears at certain times of the year” with symptoms like lethargy, weight gain, irritability, anxiety and hopelessness.
While a more-serious, lasting mood disorder may require light therapy, medication or counselling,those who simply feel “blah” can take small steps that make a big difference.
Health and fitness coach and Ascend Lifestyle Performance Podcast host Tanja Shaw offers seven tips for handling the winter “blahs.”
“Sometimes there’s no big reason for it. You just don’t feel as good as you do on other days,” she says “You’re not motivated, you might feel unproductive, you might feel an overriding sense of doom or you’re just not vibrant. Everyone has their seasons and their cycles of feeling not so good.”
Here are her suggestions:
1. “Give yourself permission to feel how you’re feeling,” Shaw says. “Sometimes just letting yourself be, and feeling OK with not being happy 100 per cent of the time can be a big step.”
People can stress themselves out by trying to push progress, Shaw adds. “There’s no rule that says you have to be happy all the time.”
2. “Start to take some personal responsibility for how you feel,” Shaw says. “I say this with a lot of love and compassion. Blaming other people, blaming situations or things that you ultimately can’t control, might make you feel better and help you justify your feelings but ultimately it’s not going to help you take any steps forward.”
3. Start keeping a journal. “Write down your feelings and get the thoughts out,” Shaw says. “That’s a nice way to see what’s going on with you.”
4. Health and fitness. While it isn’t everything, exercise is a huge component of mental health, Shaw says. “I highly recommend moving your body, and getting fresh air [and] fueling your body properly with good food definitely helps.” Shaw says getting outside to exercise can help with mood, even if it’s just shoveling the driveway.
6. “Decide to take action on something,” says Shaw. From washing your car, organizing a room in your house, going for a short walk or taking a yoga class, Shaw says little actions can make a big difference.
“Do something that will propel yourself forward,” she says. “The worst thing you can do is just get stuck, and not feel productive and get more and more stuck.”
Shaw says the feeling of being “stuck” can create anxiety. “Creating momentum, however small, can help to move yourself forward.”
7. “Celebrate your success,” Shaw says. “One of the reasons we get down is because we focus on the things we lack or things we’re not doing and we forget to slow down and say, ‘Hey, you know what? I did these three things today and that was really positive.’ ”
The steps above are helpful for anyone dealing with gloominess but for those with serious depression or thoughts of self-harm, more serious action may be needed. The B.C. Crisis Centre is available to listen and help 24/7. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-784-2433.