More Than the Winter Blues


Examining seasonal stress

Imagine you’re a young child again, it’s winter time and you’re putting on your big coverall splash pants. Plastic bags tied to your each of your feet so the snow doesn’t soak your feet. You’ve got so much padding that movement is limited but you’ve got your crazy carpet sled and a massive grin on your face. Where did the time go? Why does the present seem so much more stressful? We can argue climate change, the aging process or responsibilities, but there is a lot that impacts our mental health.

You might suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, where every winter (although it can affect people for the spring and summer months) you experience more than just some seasonal blues. There are different symptoms related to the disorder including depression, fatigue, problems sleeping, lack of concentration and more. I am not a doctor, and I am not here to tell you a sure-fire way to solve your problems, but if you are experiencing prolonged periods of symptoms such as depression, it may be time to reach out to someone. StFX provides medical services in the Health and Counselling centre, and there is the local Mediplex for walk- in appointments after 5pm.

In the interim, there are things that you can do to help alleviate symptoms of those seasonal blues or other anxieties you may be suffering.

First up we have the outdoors, but more importantly daylight! Opening the blinds, sitting in the light of the window, going outside and soaking up as much sun as you can. These are all things that can help, and the earlier the better. In the case of Seasonal Affective Disorder, Timo Partohnen and Jouko Lonnqvist, authors for The Lancet medical journal, write “The best treatment regimens include 2500 Ix of artificial light exposure in the morning.” However, they later explain there is no causal relation to a shortage of light and rather that the disorder is driven by a disruption of circadian rhythms (the physiological processes of living beings). These ideas ultimately suggest the idea that light early in the morning can help to trigger the body awake and help to regulate the circadian rhythms.

The second is exercise. I know, it’s the worst. The last thing we want to be told when we’re feeling sleepy and sad is to get up and move. Exercise has multiple positive effects and can help to balance hormone levels such as serotonin (happy) and cortisol (stress). The other perk is that by working out, you’ll be in good shape for those summer swims at the beach!

Apart from these treatments, many modes of relief include coping and support for stress. These include attempting to rest and making healthy food choices. It’s important to socialize even if we feel disconnected or not up for it, because of the impact that others have on us. They can unknowingly increase our moods, sync bodily rhythms and offer support through those tough times. Learning breathing techniques can help during those stressful moments.

No matter what route you take to avert stress during these winter months, know that there are supports in place to help you get ready to blossom in the spring. Stress is something that we all face, but it is what we do with it and how we cope that determine how it affects us. If we perceive stress as a motivator, it can heighten our abilities to do tasks and overcome difficult feats, but it can equally diminish our abilities if we choose to let it. There may be times when it becomes too much and that is when you must reach out to a friend, a family member or your local medical professional.