Shedding Light on Winter Blues

Winter can be a real drag.  The last signs of summer are blown away in the blustery wind and pelted by the chilled rain that reminds us of the wet winter to come.  The days are noticeably shorter as we load onto the bus, returning home from class in the dreary dark, our umbrellas at our sides like swords ready for battle.

Weather can certainly affect our moods.  Just like mid-terms, the winter blues can sneak up on us, but what are the “winter blues”, really?  The Canadian Mental Health Association considers the winter blues a mild form of SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, “a type of depression that follows seasonal patterns” (Canadian Mental Health Association – Seasonal Affective Disorder).  SAD is unlike the winter blues or “blahs” because it occurs every year and the symptoms can severely disrupt your life.

Sketchartists describe the symptoms of SAD with a lighter tone in their video:  S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

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SAD is very similar to major clinical depression and affects up to 3% of Canadians.  (Canadian Mental Health Association – Seasonal Affective Disorder)  This can be attributed to Canada’s dark winters.  Due to this close connection to sunlight, artificial light therapy has been developed to alleviate the symptoms of SAD. For those with severe symptoms light therapy is often used in conjunction with cognitive therapy and medication. (CBC January 2008)

According to Psychology Today, “upwards of 65% of patients experience marked relief of symptoms, and most do so within days of starting [light therapy treatment].” (Psychology Today September 2002) Other research shows that light therapy is, “estimated to be effective in up to 80 per cent of cases”. (CBC January 2008)

I have learned that people like me, who suffer from non-seasonal mood disorders, also feel the weight of winter and are susceptible to experiencing SAD concurrently. Knowing this, I wanted to be ready for my seasonal symptoms this year.

A few weeks ago I began using a a light therapy lamp, or light box.  According to the manufacturer, Day Light , 30 minutes has the same effect as a bright summer day.   I am still guarded over the results.  I feel that I am more motivated to start my day after each session, but I am going to explore having the light on for more than 30 minutes at a time.  My mood isn’t the same as it was in summer.  Not yet.

I also take vitamin D, Omega-3, and vitamin B complex supplements on a daily basis, and have dedicated myself to 3 exercise classes at my community centre each week (Strengh & Stretch, Cardio-Kickboxing, and Reformer Pilates).  I’ve found that pilates is a great way to ease my anxiety as I am forced to focus closely on my muscle movements.  This takes my focus away from any negative thoughts that start to intrude as the days get darker.

If you think that you may be suffering from SAD, make an appointment at Student Health Services to talk to a medical doctor about your symptoms and treatment options.

3 Replies to “Shedding Light on Winter Blues”

  1. I like the way you show how light therapy fits into a larger regiment that targets both body and mind. It is a good reminder that there is no single quick-fix.

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