The Winter Blues: Part 1

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Quote the Raven: Yasma Ali-Hassan
Carleton Health Promotion Team

Yasma Ali-Hassan

For many of us, when winter comes around every year, we may see a subtle or evident shift in our mood. As such, these yearly mood changes may be associated with a phenomenon known as winter blues, which occurs when we are exposed to the cold and darkness of winter, especially in countries far from the equator such as Canada. The signs of winter blues include adverse feelings and symptoms such as general sadness, lack of energy, difficulty sleeping, feeling less social than usual and difficulty taking initiative. The mechanisms behind the symptoms associated with winter blues are attributed to our lack of sun exposure in the wintertime. This occurs because sun exposure provides us with a source of Vitamin D3 which is involved in the production of a feel-good-hormone, known as serotonin. What happens in the wintertime is that we are not spending nearly as much time in the sun, therefore our exposure to Vitamin D3 is reduced substantially which indirectly results in reduced amounts of serotonin. This is a completely natural process which happens to everyone, however, our abilities to cope with these symptoms and feelings varies from person to person.

One important distinction to make when discussing the winter blues is that it is not the same as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is also known as seasonal depression. SAD is a form of diagnosable depression that is also related to the changes in seasons but is often more intense than the winter blues and can be debilitating to everyday life. The symptoms of SAD can include overeating, increased sleep, down or depressed mood most days, loss of interest in activities, isolating yourself, loss of focus, fatigued and lethargic, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts. It is important to note that even though SAD is often more severe than the winter blues, both concerns should be taken seriously and can benefit greatly from coping and self-care techniques. If you are feeling general sadness and are unsure why, you can always reach out to a health professional who can help you through this time, regardless of its severity.

Given the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the winter blues might be more intense this year than before. This may occur because many of us will be spending even less time outside this winter than we usually do because of restrictions caused by the pandemic. This means that many of us are exposed to even less sunlight, leading to lower Vitamin D3 levels in our body. In addition, these have been quite difficult times and many of us may be more likely facing mental health challenges for reasons attributed to the uncertainties and stressors which have occurred throughout pandemic.

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