Embracing the Winter Weather and Managing Seasonal Depression

Ah, late Fall in Vancouver. A time for winter squashes, cozy evenings, and…seasonal depression. 2-4% of Canadians experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a seasonal depression that generally occurs during the winter months characterized by low mood, weight gain, increased sleep, and social withdrawal, among other things. (1)  And, clinical diagnosis or not, many people (15%) find they notice a drop in their mood and energy. Having grown up in sunny Kamloops, I certainly had difficulty adjusting to my first 8 months of rain in 2004. I’m not sure if I’d still be living here had it not been for gumboots and Vitamin D! Not only does the weather contribute to apathy and sluggishness, but our calendars are generally less filled with social events, vacation days, and outdoor activities – which are all buffers against stress and depression.

Of course, similar to some emotional experiences, we haven’t the power to change the weather (wait a second…we don’t?). But, similar to putting on mittens before going outside, we can be compassionate with ourselves during painful experiences, knowing impermanence will eventually result in their transformation.  If you think your mood is affected by the changing weather, here are a few tips for management:

    1. Awareness:  Awareness is your first and most powerful tool in managing your difficult feelings.  Be mindful of what is going on in your life, and what you’re feeling.  What is the weather like today, inside and outside? Do you feel trapped or confined to the indoors due to the weather? If you’re generally someone who thrives from social connection, ask yourself when the last time you felt connected was. When was the last time you practised yoga or another form of exercise?
    2. Supplement: Studies have shown that low levels of Vitamin D may be linked to depression.(2) Chances are, at least in the winter months, you may not be getting enough of this “sunshine vitamin”. However, as Vitamin D is fat-soluble, it is possible to get too much as well. Pop by the Semperviva Lifestyle Store and chat to the knowledgeable ladies there for more info!
    3. Do Yoga: Well that’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? In my opinion, there’s nothing more comforting on a rainy day than a tea-lit Hatha class. Or, if you’re in the mood for something more energizing, make it a Kundalini or Vinyasa class. The temperature may be the same outside when you leave class, but there’s a good chance you’ll be feeling differently!
    4. Make Plans to Socialize: With barbeque and wedding season having drawn to a close, you might find yourself feeling more isolated. Make a point to plan activities with friends or loved ones. Host a potluck, make a yoga buddy, study or work at a coffee shop instead of at home. If you set plans with a friend, you’ll be held accountable and will be more likely to follow through. Also, winter is generally a time that industries cater to couples (*cough* Christmas *cough*). If you feel like you’re the only single person in Vancouver, know that it’s probably a result of the commercials, rom-coms, and magazine ads suggesting it’s “the norm”. Attend group activities like those offered on this website: www.meetup.com.
    5. Accept and Expect the Rain: It’s Vancouver. It’s winter. It’s not a huge surprise that it’s raining. But, you have a choice regarding what you do with that information. You could wait for the rain to stop, feeling frustrated and powerless, resentful and restricted. Or, you could invest in a good pair of gumboots, an umbrella that doesn’t turn inside out at the first gust of wind (Personally, I don’t recommend the dollar store ones…), and live your life alongside the rain. Yes, that philosophy also applies to accepting and living alongside our difficult emotions!

Some people find more intensive therapies such as Light Therapy, Antidepressants, or talk therapy are beneficial in managing seasonal depression. If you think you might be one of those people, see your doctor for more information.

What do you like to do to beat the winter blues? We’d love to hear your ideas!

Megan Bruneau (M.A, R.C.C.) is a Registered Clinical Counsellor, former Yoga Advisor, and avid yoga practitioner. She draws upon her personal and professional experience to inspire people towards healthy balanced living. See more posts by Megan at https://www.oneshrinksperspective.com/.