Let’s face it, February is not a favourite month for many of us. With the fun and sparkle of December long gone, winter looms large and can play havoc with our well-being. By the time the shortest month of the year rolls around, the novelty of the winter wonderland vista has rather worn off, and we’re tired of shovelling the white stuff.
We’re fed up with being sidelined from events we’d wanted to attend because our roads are covered with ice. We’re sick of “walking like a penguin” to avoid falling and we’re beyond done with the outerwear routine that calls for coats, hats, scarves, mitts and boots every time we leave the house. Mid-winter is also prime season for sickness. Coughs, colds and flu bugs knock us down like dominos at every turn. As if all of that isn’t enough, we’re also more prone to musculoskeletal injuries in the winter because our muscles and connective tissues have less elasticity in the cold than they do in warmer climes, at least until they're thoroughly warmed up.
The lengthening days do offer a glimmer of hope, but we know that we still have to get through March and, if this year is anything like the last couple of years, possibly much of April as well before we can inhale the first wafts of spring.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, oh so aptly acronymed SAD, was first identified as a mental health condition in the 1980’s. There are numerous scientific theories for it, ranging from light deprivation to hormonal changes. It is known that women are eight times more likely than men to suffer from SAD, and that it is generally at its most intense during mid-life and beyond. The condition is defined as a form of clinical depression which occurs for an extended period in two or more consecutive winters in an individual who does not otherwise suffer from depression.
SAD can have a major impact on our psyche since it’s more than a simple case of the “winter blues”. Many of the symptoms work together to create an oppressive climate of lethargy. Depression, anxiety, fatique, excessive sleep, lack of motivation, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, withdrawal from social activities and appetite disruptions hardly inspire a quality lifestyle. Although SAD can also lead to nausea and loss of appetite, overeating is a more common phenomena, particularly with cravings for the refined foods you may generally avoid like processed carbs and sweet or salty snacks. These indulgences can lead to weight gain which exacerbates the problem.
Light therapy is the most often recommended remedy for the condition and it brings relief to many sufferers. Lamps or light boxes specifically created for SAD mimic natural light and stimulate the brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin to improve mood and sleep. Recommended light sources should be UV-filtered. Severe cases, particularly those in which self-harm or thoughts of suicide occur, may require psychotherapy or anti-depressant medication. If you or someone you care about is suffering from SAD, please reach out and get some help. Talk to your doctor.
If, on the other hand, you are struggling mightily with the February blahs and don’t feel that your condition warrants medical help, there are a few things you can do to try to keep your life on track until winter comes to its long-awaited end. Even without a clinical SAD diagnosis, you may be experiencing depression, excessive sleep or insomnia, lack of motivation and eating disruptions.
Choose a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, complex carbs and healthy fats. Make sure you maintain an exercise routine. When weather permits, get outside for a little sunshine or soak up those rays in a comfy chair by your window. Practice self-care. Create something. Spend some quality time with your family and friends, and get out there in the community as often as you can for some social interaction.
Most of all, remember:
Spring will come!
Hang in there!