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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante    

Am I affected by the season change?

by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

In early October, Manitobans received an early dose of winter. An unprecedented snowstorm called for a state of emergency in Manitoba. A blast of heavy wet snow left homes and businesses without power and incredible damage to trees and property.

But aside from the physical damage of the sudden change in weather, what impact does this have on the individual person? I’ve noticed not only in my practice, but also in talking to friends, family and colleagues, that people are generally more tired when fall comes around. 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
  • a loss of touch with reality, hearing voices (hallucinations) or having strange ideas (delusions).

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. For more information, visit the Mood Disorders of Manitoba website at

Overall prevention of depression symptoms during this time of year can be fairly simple. Steps to take care of yourself should include:

  • Regular exercise – dress warmly and go outside for a walk, or visit your nearby shopping mall and do some laps. 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.
  • 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 twelve 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 etc.
  • Eat a healthy diet, which includes reducing sugar intake.

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

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