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  • 15 January 2023
  • 1 year

Feeling Blue? Here’s Your Winter Survival Guide

Anvita Janardhanan, Msc, PGD

Registered Psychotherapist

EAP Clinical Counsellor

The hype of ‘Blue Monday’ is upon us once again. The concept of ‘Blue Monday’ states that the third Monday of January is the most depressing day of the year. While it is a popular concept, there is no scientific evidence that any specific day or month is more depressing than the other. This term was devised by a UK travel company in 2005. The company came to this conclusion by considering factors such as time since Christmas, weather conditions, and time spent on activities in a pseudoscientific calculation.

While the concept of Blue Monday has been widely discredited by experts, it is true that the winter months can be a difficult time for many people. Most of us start the month of January with hopes for a new beginning and a better future. However, the reality soon takes over – the weather becomes cold and dark, credit card bills from holiday expenses pile up, vacation days come to an end, and new year resolutions become hard to keep. This can lead to a low mood and increased stress. Additionally, lifestyle changes such as spending more time indoors, decreased time spent socializing and decrease in physical activities are common in the winter months. Weight gain and feelings of isolation also play a key role in the post-holiday blues. Loneliness is another challenge, more so during the winter months. According to a recent Canadian Social Survey, more than 1 in 10 people aged 15 and older said that they always or often felt lonely. Further, 49 percent of Canadians who reported feeling lonely report ‘fair or poor mental health.’

During the winter months, most people go to work and leave work when it is dark. The shorter days and the reduced exposure to sunlight affect our sleep-wake cycles, which in turn affects the chemicals that regulate mood and sleep.

The Canadian Psychological Association states that Canadians are particularly at risk for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) due to decreased sunlight in winter months. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression with a seasonal pattern, commonly recurring in the fall and winter months for more than two years. SAD makes up about 10 percent of the reported cases of depression in Canada.

Winter months can be hard and challenging, but it is not all dull and gloom. There are many ways to care for your mental wellbeing. What can you do, you ask?

A good way to take care of your mental health is by taking care of your body. Remember the acronym PLEASE

  • Treat PhysicaL illness. If you have illnesses or vitamin deficiencies, see a doctor to check if medication or supplements may be helpful. Take medications as prescribed.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Many people eat excessively over the holidays, and then try to compensate by going on strict diets. Try to have well-balanced meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Avoid foods that affect your emotions negatively.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and other mood-altering substances or consume them in moderation.
  • Balanced Sleep – not too much, not too little. Between 7 to 9 hours of sleep is adequate for most people.
  • Exercise regularly. You’ve heard this one time and again, because it is true. Exercise helps ward off the blues, so try to engage in at least 20 minutes of exercise.

Plan social activities and connect to friends and family virtually to manage feelings of loneliness. Making effort to build meaningful connections can promote long-term wellbeing. Get involved in physical activities, particularly during the midday daylight hours if your schedule allows it. Engage yourself in hobbies you enjoy, like a book club, yoga class or a dance class. Proactively managing stress is also crucial in preventing mental health issues. Practicing mindfulness, meditation, self-compassion and gratitude can enhance mental well-being significantly.  Another important strategy is to set specific, realistic goals for progress. Set yourself up for success, not failure.

Know when to seek help. If you find yourself struggling with prolonged low mood or anxiety, reach out to your family doctor or a mental health professional for support. Depression and anxiety can be treated with psychotherapy, medications and self-care strategies. In some cases of SAD, physicians may recommend light therapy as well. You can also check if your employer offers mental health support through an Employee Assistance Program.

Winter months can be hard, but adequate self-care, regular physical activities and social support can help prevent and manage mental health issues.

Workplace Options helps employees balance their work, family, and personal needs to become healthier, happier, and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class employee support, effectiveness, and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals, and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from dependent care and stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. To learn more email us at service@workplaceoptions.com

Disclaimer: This document is intended for general information only. It does not provide the reader with specific direction, advice, or recommendations. You may wish to contact an appropriate professional for questions concerning your particular situation.

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