Beating back winter blues: tips for managing seasonal depression

As our dreary Alberta winter trudges along, many of us might be feeling more blue than usual. Don’t worry, you certainly aren’t alone. Short days and low temperatures have an impact on our brains and bodies’ daily operation. We might feel more sluggish in the mornings making it hard to get out of the nice cozy bed for classes. We might also feel like we have less energy to carry us through our busy university life and even feel hopeless and depressed about everything, or nothing in particular. This is not uncommon, and there are small steps we can take to help ourselves get back on track while we wait for the sun to return. 

Here are some tips I have found greatly helpful in dealing with my personal bouts of seasonal depression. 

Vitamin D

I always start by taking Vitamin D supplements every day. Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps us feel happy and motivated. In the summer, the sun and our skin work together to produce vitamin D naturally, but with overcast weather and short days it is hard to get our fill. The recommended dose of vitamin D for people between the ages of 1 and 70 is 1000 IU daily, and they can be purchased easily in any vitamin section at grocery stores and pharmacies. This is a quick and easy way to get a boost of happy chemicals to keep you going. Make sure to consult a pharmacist or doctor if you have any questions. Alternatively, you can also supplement with foods rich in the vitamin such as milk, cheese, eggs and fatty fish like salmon, mackerel or tuna.

Light Therapy

Everyone loves a good sunbeam, but they can certainly be few and far between this time of year. In the winter months, you can purchase a light box to mimic the sun’s rays, which helps to improve your mood and regulate your circadian rhythm as it is undoubtedly disrupted by the lack of natural sunshine. You can find them on Amazon for about $60-80 depending on the features you might want. Sitting in front of these lights for 15 minutes every day is shown to improve mood and energy levels. I do this in the mornings as often as I can, and it makes it much easier to get up and moving efficiently for the day ahead  

Sleep and Routines

Getting enough regular sleep is integral to our emotional and physical well-being. We cannot function at optimal levels without it, so make sure to get the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night. Try your best to keep a sleep schedule and go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This keeps our natural rhythms regulated, so our bodies don’t have to work overtime to compensate. 

Routines play a key role here, as setting yourself up for success works best. I like to prep my breakfast, lunch and morning coffee the night before so I don’t lose any minutes of much-needed  sleep in the early hours.  

Physical Activity

Using your body is good for it. Exercise releases endorphins, which help with our moods. Hitting the gym, taking a fitness class, or even just going for a brisk scenic walk can greatly improve our well-being. The University Campus and Community Recreation services have a multitude of facilities to get your body moving. Additionally, Whyte Avenue and our vast river valley are lovely places to go for a stroll when you are feeling out of sorts.

Social Interactions

Spending time with friends and family as well as making new connections can be energizing and helpful to our mental wellness. Having a sense of community and a sturdy support system gives us a sense of security and enjoyment in life. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends, peers or join a club this winter. Relaxing movie nights, cafe chats and even cooperative study sessions can help us feel less isolated and brighten our days this time of year.

Mental Health Resources

Our campus is blessed with many mental health and wellness resources for when times get too tough to manage alone. One-on-one services, like the SU Peer Support Center and Unitea are amazing options to get some guidance and feel heard and seen on campus. If these options aren’t going to cut it, don’t hesitate to visit the University Health Center or explore the options available with Counselling and Clinical services. You’re not alone and help is available. 

For the best results try and use these tips together. Find what works best for you and don’t give up hope. The sun will come back soon and we are strong enough to make it through until then. Good Luck!

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