As the seasons change and Mother Nature runs its course, you may be feeling the effects of the cooler air and the early sunset.
The lack of sunlight and extended periods of darkness prevents our bodies from releasing the hormone serotonin, which improves our feelings of well-being. Without this regulation, our moods may shift downwards, or turn into what some of us know as ‘the winter blues’. This affects 15% of Canadians and can lead us to sleep longer, opt for more comfort foods, and to withdraw socially in favour of staying in. If your low emotions and lethargy develop into a lasting depressive state, you could be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, a clinically recognized mood disorder. This only adds to the existing anxiety and depression brought on by COVID-19. This week we would like to bring awareness to how the colder weather influences our emotions and behaviours and how we can manage this over the next few months.
This occurs each year:We fast forward an hour on the second Sunday in March and are held back an hour on the first Sunday in November. There is dispute over the initial reasoning for implementing this bi-annual time change, but most sources indicate that the initiative was intended to help conserve energy due to maximizing sunlight, though the effects of this claim have not been scientifically proven. Unfortunately, turning our clocks back is met with more disadvantages than benefits. Ontario is currently looking to stop the November “fall back” and keep our Daylight Savings Time permanent. This bill could pass if Quebec and New York agree, which would give us more daylight at the end of the day and allow our circadian rhythms to naturally adapt to the seasons.
Daylight Savings Time impacts both our physical health and mental health. From almost immediately after gaining an extra hour for up to the first three weeks following, people can experience:
- Reduction in sleep
- Disruption to our internal clocks
- Rise in strokes
With additional increases in heart attacks, vehicular accidents, and workplace injuries when we lose an hour of sleep in the spring. However, one thing that makes a significant difference during the end of Daylight Savings Time in the fall is the surge in depression rates.
Seasonal Affective disorder
Commonly referred to as ‘seasonal depression’, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern. The mood changes and symptoms associated with SAD are similar to those of depression, but they normally occur during the fall and wintertime when there is less daylight, which throws of our internal clocks and circadian rhythms, causing us to be thrown off with our schedules. Around 2-3% of the Canadian population experience SAD, which may be due to factors including genetic predispositions, drop in serotonin, and unbalanced levels of melatonin, among others.
What sets apart SAD from the typical winter blahs are when the symptoms regularly interfere with daily functioning.
Signs & Symptoms of SAD:
- Feeling sad or having a depressed mood most of the day almost every day
- Loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed
- Having low energy and feeling fatigued
- Disruption in sleep (usually oversleeping)
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, and making decisions
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Changes in appetite and or/weight (usually overeating and gaining weight)
- Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
- Thoughts of death or suicide
COPING WITH DARKER DAYS
Get exposed to natural light
Get outside when the sun is out by breaking up chores throughout the day (checking the mail, raking leaves, shoveling, walking the dog, etc.) and if not, be sure to sit or do your work by windows, if possible.
Amp up the artificial light
Invest in lamps that are specifically made to help with SAD. Some are pricey, but many are affordable through sources such as Amazon.
What to look for in a SAD light here: https://www.healthline.com/health/sad-lamp
select specific scents
Aromatherapy can help boost our moods through diffusing essential oils or using them in rollers. Bergamot, peppermint, lemon, lavender, and cedar are known to be uplifting.
Talk to your doctor
regarding medication and therapy. Antidepressants have been shown to improve SAD symptoms, as well as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. A doctor can rule out symptoms caused by physical issues (hormonal imbalances, illness, nutrient deficiencies, etc.) and connect you to providers of therapy services (including light therapy).
Stay physically active
Exercising for at least 30 minutes each day can keep your physical health in shape and improve your mood, as it aids in releasing serotonin and endorphins
Be aware of food intake
The colder weather makes empty carbohydrates a tempting choice for comfort, but it is important to continue adding protein, vegetables, and whole grains into your diet for fueling energy and proper body functioning.
Social connection is essential for our mental health. If physically being with company is challenging, continue to video chat, write letters, connect on social media, and schedule phone calls, if possible.
Make space for enjoyment
Engaging in an activity you enjoy is a core part of self-care. It allows you to be more productive, sparks your passion, and makes you feel good.
If you have tried the above efforts (except for reaching out to a doctor or medical professional) and your symptoms do not change or worsen for 2 weeks, please relay your symptoms to your doctor for care.
The best way out is always through.