Do you feel SAD? Steps to beat the winter blues

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Is winter making you sad? You’re not alone.

About 15% of Canadians get the winter blues and 2-3% get Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). People feel the winter blues or SAD from fall until March.

Are the winter blues the same as SAD?

No. The winter blues is milder than SAD. Those with winter blues feel moody and tired. They have low energy. The lack of sunlight affects their hormones. The brain makes more melatonin when it is dark and less serotonin. Melatonin makes us feel sleepy while serotonin controls our mood and behavior.

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a type of depression. It is an illness that affects more adult women than men. Those with SAD are too depressed to work. They cannot do everyday tasks. Most people have SAD in winter but some can have it in summer. Doctors have found that 13-17% of people with SAD have a family member with this disorder.

How to prevent getting the winter blues

  1. Are you:
    • always sad and bored? Do you get angry quickly?
    • always sleepy? Having low energy?
    • always eating bread, pasta and sweets? Or have no appetite?
    • anti-social? (you don’t want to be with people?)
    • stressed and tense?

    You could have the winter blues if you feel these signs.

  2. Go to a doctor – Ask your family doctor for advice. Your doctor will check your blood count or Vitamin D levels. They may give you medicine and tell you what foods you should eat to feel better.
  3. Get enough sunlight – Go outside during the day. Take a walk during lunch break or play with your children in the snow. Sunlight will help your mood.
  4. If your doctor suggests light therapy, go to Winnipeg Public Library branches. They have special lamps you can use for free all year round.

  5. Stay active – Exercise at least 30 minutes every day. Walk outside, jog, dance or do aerobic exercises at the gym. Read How to stay active in winter to know more activities.
  6. Eat healthy – Don’t eat too much starchy or sweet food. Have a balanced diet of proteins, fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Eat three meals every day. Schedule them at the same time every day. Do you best not to have a snack in between meals.
  7. Talk to someone – Talk to your partner or friend. Talking will relieve you of some the burden you feel. Get support from them so you can make a change or ask for treatment.

Is it more than just the blues?

How do you know that it’s SAD and not just the winter blues?

  1. You eat healthy and exercise but still feel depressed.
  2. You can’t do your everyday tasks anymore.
  3. You feel hopeless and helpless.
  4. You can’t work. You are not taking care of your family.
  5. You think of committing suicide.

Talk to an expert immediately. Ask your family doctor to refer you to a mental health professional or check CMHA Mental Health Resources.
Article updated July 11, 2023.
Sources: Don’t be SAD, Laurie McPherson, Winnipeg Health Region; Combating the winter blues (presentation slides), Blaine Roberts, English Online; More than just the winter blues?; Seasonal Affective Disorder,; Seasonal Affective Disorder, Canadian Mental Health Association; and What are endorphins? Tom Scheve, How stuff works. Retrieved December 10, 2018.

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