How to beat the winter blues

It’s that time of year again – the days are getting shorter, the mercury is hovering somewhere below zero, snow is in the air and on the roads. Yes, winter has arrived.

For many people, winter carries a negative connotation. Most of us indulge in grumpy small talk about shoveling snow, poor road conditions, feeling chilled, and navigating icy sidewalks. The focus is typically on the less than ideal aspects of the season.

For a smaller percentage, colder weather and less light bring a seasonal mood change that’s more than just a bit of winter grouchiness. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can make winter months feel much longer and more dreary.

Fortunately, there are ways to beat the winter blues and with a shift in our thinking, many people can learn to appreciate the positive parts of the season.

A graduate student from the US has gained some media attention lately for her findings after spending time researching winter mindsets in northern Norway. Kari Liebowitz traveled to a northern community that experiences several months of near total darkness to study attitudes toward winter. She was somewhat surprised to find the locals didn’t view the winter months as something to be endured – but looked forward to the season as one to be enjoyed.

When she spoke with Norwegians about their cold and dark season, they talked about favourite outdoor activities, the beauty of nature covered in a blanket of snow, the loveliness of the soft light and cozy times beside fireplaces or candle light. Liebowitz found a positive attitude and focus turned winter into a special time of year.

This gives us all something we can strive toward. We can choose to turn our minds toward winter activities and experiences we find enjoyable. Here in the Okanagan we are fortunate to have an abundance of outdoor sports and activities to enjoy in the winter. Downhill skiing or snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, sledding, skating or getting out for a winter nature walk are easily at our disposal here. Getting outside and active is known to boost your mood and it also gives something to look forward to. Curling up with a great book beside a fire or going for hot chocolate with a friend can also remind us to bundle up and enjoy the season.

Some of the same strategies for shifting focus can also be helpful for people experiencing SAD. A recent study compared long term effectiveness of light therapy and tailored cognitive behaviour therapy. Although light therapy is an effective treatment for an acute episode of SAD, therapy focused on training the brain to think about things differently has proven to be the most effective long term strategy for this condition.

Therapy focuses on challenging negative thoughts about winter and encouraging patients to remain active during winter months.

In this study, participants received either six weeks of light box therapy or cognitive behaviour therapy. At a two-year follow-up, researchers found 46 percent of those receiving light therapy reported recurring bouts of SAD compared to only 27 percent in the therapy group.

If you experience seasonal depression, speak to your doctor to learn what treatment options might work best for you.

In the meantime, we can all benefit from a reminder to focus on the good in winter. Don’t let chilly weather stop you from being active - bundle up and get out there!



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