Nova Scotia·Q & A

Seasonal affective disorder and how to cope with winter

If you feel as if dark, cold weather may be affecting your mood, you’re right.

With the weather lately, it's understandable most Maritimers may be getting tired of winter

Some health officials call the Monday of the last full week of January the most depressing day of the year - Blue Monday for short. (Courtesy John DeMarco)

After several severe storms over the last few weeks, it's understandable that most Maritimers may be getting tired of winter.

If you feel as if the dark, cold weather may be affecting your mood, you’re right.

Things are going to get better.- David Mensink

Health experts report that people generally feel happier, more energetic and have lower sickness rates in the longer and brighter days of summer, whereas their mood tends to decline during the shorter and duller days of winter.

David Mensink, is a psychologist at Dalhousie University. He sat down with CBC's Amy Smith to talk about seasonal affective disorder (SAD) also sometimes called the winter blues.

Why does weather have such an influence on how we feel?

David Mensink, is a psychologist at Dalhousie University. He sat down with CBC's Amy Smith to talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) also sometimes called the winter blues. (CBC)

"It goes back to how we think. In fact, if we have certain perceptions of negativity around the weather, then our feelings are going to follow that," says Mensink. 

He says that negativity has a compounding effect.

"And then it kind of cycles down. 'Yeah I'll be late for work, I have a lot of shovelling, maybe I'll hurt my back and then I'll have to go to the doctor then I won't be able to go to work and make any money and then I'll end up — wherever.'" 

What are effects of not enough daylight exposure?

"That's a biological factor and there are things you can do about that. There's something called seasonal affective disorder and there's light boxes where you can expose yourself to [full spectrum] light. What I like to tell people is try to expose yourself to as much sunlight as possible when the sun is shining. But if you don't have the sun, then a light box will do the trick," says Mensink. 

What about people who love winter?

"Probably, winter is less problematic for them. But that's an interesting point — going back to how we perceive things. Some people perceive [winter] in a positive way and they have no problems in their mood. But others may not," he says. 

"Also, another important point to make is that some people may be more vulnerable, they may be more stressed, or [have] a certain amount of depression and weather can just push them over."

Besides sunlight what can people do to get out of their winter funk?

"There's a few things. One, I call it taking a 'systems' view,' a whole view. It's [Feb. 18] today but it's not going to stay [Feb. 18] for the next three months and things are going to get better. It's good to remind yourself of that. This is just temporary and all that snow in front of my house is just going to be gone," Mensink says. 

"Another thing is, set a positive thing to do. Maybe, at the end of winter if you don't like winter — like for example, maybe a trip or do something special just to mark, 'OK, now we're into spring time.'"  

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