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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante    

Tips for adjusting to the seasonal change

by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

It’s that time of year again folks! We are breaking out the mittens, warm hats and heavy jackets and bracing ourselves for the winter months. After having an extended summer with a warmer than average September and October, it is not a surprise that some of us are having a hard time adjusting to cooler temperatures.

But aside from an adjustment to the cold, what impact does this have on the individual person? I’ve noticed that people are generally more tired when fall comes around as we do not have as much exposure to sunlight. Energy levels decrease, as well as our motivation to accomplish tasks. For some people, overeating during this season is common.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, researchers believe that this increase in depression symptoms is related to lower levels of exposure to sunlight. The change in seasons can change the human body’s level of serotonin and melatonin; natural substances that influence sleep levels and mood. In severe cases, some people meet the criteria for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Signs and symptoms to watch out for include:

  • changes in appetite and weight
  • sleep problems
  • loss of interest in work, hobbies, people, or sex
  • withdrawal from family members and friends
  • feeling useless, hopeless, excessively guilty, pessimistic, or having low self-esteem
  • agitation or feeling slowed down
  • irritability
  • fatigue
  • trouble concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
  • crying easily or feeling like crying but not being able to
  • thoughts of suicide, which should always be brought to the attention of a health care professional

Also, some people crave more starchy and sweet food, which can lead to weight gain.

Women are more likely to be diagnosed with SAD than men, and young people are more likely to develop SAD.

Common forms of treatment are medication, counselling, and light box therapy. Light boxes or SAD lamps mimic outdoor light by emitting a broad-spectrum ultraviolet light. Some use these lamps at the start of their day, and this can significantly help some people to feel better during the darker and colder months. Talk to your family doctor if you have questions or concerns.

Overall prevention of depression symptoms during this time of year can be fairly simple. Of course, with the COVID-19 pandemic, these strategies will have to align with the recommended public health guidelines.

Steps to take care of yourself should include:

  • Regular exercise – dress warmly and go outside for a walk. Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. It is also beneficial to do muscle and bone strengthening activities at least twice every week.
  • Increase the amount of light in your home. Open window coverings as soon as you see the sun rising.
  • Go to bed early and wake up in the morning at the same time every day.
  • Make sure you get enough hours of sleep. Children ages six to 12 years old require nine to 12 hours of sleep, teens require eight to 10 hours, and adults need seven to nine hours every night.
  • Decrease screen time on phones, tablets, and computers.
  • Increase time engaging in stress reducing activities. For example: meditation, prayer, listening to calm music, reading, and doing art or crafts.
  • Eat a healthy diet, which includes reducing sugar intake.

Another great strategy is to practice gratitude. At the end of every day, list three things about the day that you are thankful for. This could include a nice conversation that you had, a kind gesture from someone, or getting a task accomplished. Changing your perspective from “Why me?” to “I am so fortunate” goes a long way to help your overall mood.

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

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