By Suzy Pepper
A late-winter snowstorm hit Toronto recently. I woke up the next day to find it was still snowing. I sat on the couch, cup of coffee in my hand, and watched snow drift into piles in my backyard. The usual thoughts entered my mind: Ugh. Snow. Cold. Cold and wet. I’ll have to shovel the driveway. I can’t wear my new suede boots. I hate winter. I should move. Is life even worth living?
Like up to 20% of adults (four females for every male) living further away from the equator, I experience some symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) every winter: lack of energy, lack of concentration, weight gain, irritability, feelings of hopelessness, both sleepiness and sleeplessness at inopportune times, and of course, depression. For me and other SAD sufferers who are prone to anxiety, panic attacks and/or generalized anxiety are also at an all-time high during winter.
As a SAD sufferer, it can be a big struggle to get out of bed on some winter mornings. Luckily, as a therapist, I’m able to advise my patients (including myself!) on how to cope with symptoms of SAD.
Without further ado, here are my do’s and don’ts on beating the winter blues:
DO: Get 15 minutes of sunlight per day at minimum. It is currently believed that SAD may be triggered by a loss of light during the winter, which is why we feel oh-so-good in the summer. Go outside and soak up some sun!
DON’T: Eat tons of pasta and bread. You’ll want to, but fight it! Carbohydrate cravings are common with SAD because your brain wants serotonin to make it happy. However, there’s a rebound effect: you’ll find yourself eating more, moving less, gaining more weight, and generally feeling icky. Here are some healthy sources of serotonin or its precursor, tryptophan, all of which you should gobble: apples, berries, pears, turkey, milk, and egg whites.
DO: Exercise! Going for a run is ridiculously hard in the winter, and ridiculously hard when you are depressed. Why not blast some music and have a dance party in your bedroom? Studies have shown that cardio aerobic exercise reduces stressful cortisol and increases feel-good endorphins, so get moving!
DON’T: Drink too much alcohol and coffee. Alcohol will contribute to your depressive symptoms, while coffee can contribute to anxiety. Do, instead, take 100 mg of time release B-Complex vitamins, one pill per morning. B-vitamins are water-soluble, so don’t worry about overdosing. These vitamins work hard to strengthen your nervous system and alleviate stress, and tend to be difficult to get through diet.
DO: Remember that it will end. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, whether the depression is seasonal or not.
DON’T: Allow yourself to become withdrawn. One of the biggest problems with depression is that people lose interest in their friends, loved ones, and hobbies, which, in turn, increases their depression. Hang out with your friends. Hug your mother. Give kisses to your dog. Play guitar. Read books. Sing loudly in the car.
DO: See your family doctor if your symptoms get worse, especially if you experience a lack of interest in your life and/or suicidal thoughts. People with severe symptoms of SAD have shown significant improvement with the use of light boxes, psychotherapy, and/or antidepressant medication. Always remember to ask for help.
About Suzy Pepper:
I am a newbie psychotherapist specializing in anxiety disorders. I think neurocognitive disorders are really awesome. I also like writing and eating whipped cream on anything or by itself. I really hate The Vampire Diaries but I watch it every week, which makes a television show the worst boyfriend I’ve ever had. Awkward. Someday, I would like to open my own practice for people with problems just like mine, and we can all get together and talk about how being crazy isn’t so abnormal.