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Winter blues versus seasonal affective disorder

Kristin Wells, the Cariboo Mental Health Association’s South Cariboo community engagement co-ordinator, is encouraging the community to take part in Giving Tuesday at the end of the month. (Photo submitted)

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a phrase that many people have heard tossed around. You could have heard about it online, from a friend, or even your evening news.

Most often, people confuse SAD with the Winter Blues. During the long winter months of our cold, snowy Cariboo winters, people can feel like their mood is dropping, and it’s more challenging to make it through the long, dark winter days.

Knowing the difference between the two can make all the difference. SAD is a very real thing, but did you know that it only affects 2-3 per cent of Canadians, whereas the Winter Blues can affect up to 15 per cent of Canadians?

The winter blues will often present ups and downs, especially on the cold, dark days, but will fly away on the crisp, sunny, blue-sky days. On those days, it can be hard to get out of that cozy, comfy, warm bed in the morning, and you might think of nothing but yummy comfort foods all day long. These days during the dark days of winter should be relatively few and far between, especially if you live in the Cariboo, where we are blessed with beautiful blue skies most of the winter.

Whereas the winter blues will only be present in a few and far between days, SAD will be a recurring feeling that won’t go away. SAD will have you feeling like you want to sleep all the time or have difficulty getting a good night’s sleep; you will feel tired allllll the time. You may notice an appetite change, particularly for sugary, starchy, carb-filled foods, and the inevitable weight gain that comes with overindulging in those tasty treats. You will most likely be feeling sad, hopeless, irritable, or down on yourself, all the while avoiding people and activities that you used to enjoy.

Whether you feel like you are experiencing either one of these, there are things you can do to combat them on your own.

• Let that little light shine! – Open all the windows and let the light shine in. Try keeping your curtains or blinds open all day. You may find that you have to trim some bushes or branches so the sunlight can more freely flow into your house. If you find that natural light is hard to come by in your home, there are many different light therapy devices on the market that help bring the sun’s goodness indoors. CMHA South Cariboo does have an SAD light that people can sign out and give it a try before buying one.

• Let’s get physical! - The Cariboo is a winter wonderland waiting to be discovered; this could be the perfect time to try cross-country skiing, ice fishing or be daring and learn to ride that sled. Being physically active might be the last thing on your mind, but staying physical will help keep your mental health happy and healthy.

• Get those Zzzzzzs in! - Sticking to a regular sleep schedule will help you stay focused and energized during the long day ahead. Oversleeping can worsen the symptoms of the winter blues and SAD. As cozy as your bed might seem, your mind will thank you for your break from the bed.

• NOTE: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used in place of professional advice.

If some of these feelings seem to happen each year, have a real impact on your life, and improve during certain seasons, talk to your doctor.

It is very important not to diagnose yourself without speaking to your doctor because there may be other causes for these symptoms. And even if it does turn out to be depression, it may not be the SAD form of depression.

If you are struggling, know that there is help and hope.

If, despite your best efforts, you feel overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety or sadness, or if your negative feelings are persistent or get in the way of your daily life, you should reach out for mental health support: Contact CMHA South Cariboo for help! CMHA South Cariboo (250) 395- 4883. You can always call the Emergency Crisis Line 24 hours a day @ 1-888-353-2273 or you can always call the suicide crisis line at # 9-8-8 24 hours a day.

Kristin Wells, CMHA Community Navigator