If you find yourself struggling more than ever these days, you’re not alone. January is known as the most difficult month for Canadians. Post-holiday credit card bills may still be piling up, new year’s resolutions may be long broken, and the dark, freezing days of winter wreak havoc on our moods! On top of this, a pandemic with endless restrictions in place means we’ve never felt so disconnected. Not surprisingly, mental health issues are exacerbated right now and even those who do not normally struggle need extra support.

Is it just the “winter blues” or something more serious?

The winter blues are not foreign to most of us living in cold climates. It’s easy to get stuck inside on chilly days and feel low when it gets dark so early. In the winter, our energy wanes so we tend to lack motivation and this may affect our moods periodically. According to Dr. Matthew Rudorfer, a mental health expert at the National Institute of Health, “winter blues is a general term, not a diagnosis. It’s fairly common, and it’s more mild than serious. It usually clears up on its own in a fairly short amount of time.”

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), on the other hand, is a type of depression with a seasonal pattern that interferes with daily functioning and affects nearly 5% of Canadians. It appears each year as the seasons change and goes away months later, usually during spring or summer. According to Rudorfer, “People with SAD tend to be withdrawn, have low energy, oversleep and put on weight.” Without treatment, sufferers must wait for a change in season to feel better.

Focus therapist and RP, Laura Nault, has some great tips to try and fight those winter blahs and get you feeling excited in anticipation of spring. If you can’t shake those dark feelings and your day to day is just too difficult to bear, contact your family doctor or speak to one of our trusted mental health experts.

Outside is good for your inside: Bundle up to stay warm and take yourself outside to

experience the fresh air and natural light for at least 20 minutes each day – go on a hike, walk around the neighbourhood or simply bask in the sun on those rare bright days to take in the vitamin D.

Light up your life: Winter days are long and grey days make it hard to get enough natural sunlight. Try to spend time in well-lit rooms, get outside whenever possible and invest in a therapy light – there are plenty of affordable ones on the market these days.

Make time to move: 20-30 minutes a day of yoga or light stretching is an instant mood booster. Better yet, take that walk outside for the extra boost of fresh air and light!

Eat well to feel well: Adding nutritious food to your diet regularly will help you stay healthy during the winter season and also provide you with the energy you may be lacking. Ensure you are getting enough protein and supplement with vitamin D and other minerals you may be missing in your diet.

Be kind to your mind: Relaxing your mind and body through meditation, breathing

techniques, and connecting with your inner you really are simple and effective ways to provide yourself with some positive vibes.

Let’s talk: Luckily, we are becoming more educated about the realities of mental health and the issues that come along with being human. Without talking about how we’re really feeling, it’s hard to know if it’s just the winter blues or if we’re dealing with an issue that needs treatment. Let’s be kind to ourselves and others during this difficult time. 

Written by Julie Sabine, Chief Strategy Officer, Focus Mental Wellness