Fighting the Winter Blues: How to Deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder in Ottawa

depressed girl looks out window at winter

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is one of the many types of depression.


SAD is linked with the changing seasons, likely due to the changes in the amount of sunlight present. People who suffer from this condition suffer symptoms similar to depression but have these occurring seasonally. These symptoms usually manifest before and during winter, with some people experiencing it in other seasons.


SAD is more common in some countries compared to others. In Canada, a Canadian Mental Health Association Survey shows that SAD represents about 1 in 10 depression cases.


Regardless of the causes or when SAD occurs, it is something that one should not take lightly. The symptoms can be quite debilitating for a person. In the worst cases, it can significantly impact certain aspects of a person’s life. That is why a person should seek professional help if SAD is suspected.


How Seasonal Affective Disorder Impacts One’s Life

boy in wintertime with seasonal affective disorder
The causes of SAD are still largely unknown.


However, scientists have a few suspects regarding the factors that can cause SAD to manifest.


Some of these are the following:


  • Circadian rhythms: Changes in the amount of sunlight present in a day directly impacts a person’s sleep-wake cycle. It is suspected to be linked to SAD.
  • Hormones: Hormones can directly impact a person’s mood and emotions. A hormone, serotonin, is suspected to be a key player in SAD. Melatonin, another hormone, regulates a person’s sleep-wake cycle. It may also be a key player in SAD.

Regardless of the causes of SAD, the lives of those suffering from the condition are severely impacted.


Some of the most significant impacts of SAD on a person’s life include the following:


  • Mood: SAD can cause significant mood changes to manifest.
  • Relationships: Changes in mood, activities, and behaviour may put a strain on a person’s relationships.
  • Professional life: The lack of energy, drive, and interest can impact a person’s career and professional life.
  • Physical health: SAD can introduce many stressors into a person’s life. These stressors can significantly impact physical health. The changes in appetite and eating patterns can also affect the body.

People that suffer from SAD must learn how to manage the changes that the condition can bring.


That is to reduce the negative impact that SAD has on their lives.


The Risk Factors of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Not everyone has an equal chance of suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Some individuals are more at risk compared to others.


Some of the risk factors for this condition are the following:


  • Gender: Women are more likely to have this condition. In fact, surveys show that women are four times more likely to be diagnosed.
  • Age: Young adults are more likely to develop the condition compared to older ones. There are also cases of SAD in teens and children.
  • Location: The farther that a person lives from the equator, the higher the chance of SAD manifesting. It is likely due to differences in the amount of daylight.
  • Genetics and family history: Those with a family history of SAD are more likely to have the condition.
  • Co-occurrence: People with certain existing psychological conditions may be more likely to suffer from SAD. Examples of these conditions include depression and bipolar disorder.

The presence of multiple risk factors for some people can increase the chances of SAD manifesting.


Fortunately, there are signs that one can watch out for that can signify the presence of SAD.


Signs of SAD to Watch Out For

young male teen in counselling with therapistSeasonal affective disorder, like other mental health conditions, might be a bit tricky to diagnose.


There are signs that one should watch out for that may be indicative of the presence of the condition. Some of these signs to watch out for are the following:


  • Depression: Constant and consistent feelings of depression mainly characterize SAD.
  • Loss of interest: Loss of interest in activities, even the ones that were once enjoyable, is a sign of SAD.
  • Changes in certain aspects of behaviour: Many changes occur in a person’s behavior, much like what you see in other types of depression. Some of these include changes in sleep patterns, eating habits, and energy levels.
  • Weight changes: Since appetite is impacted, a person’s weight may also follow suit. Some people experience weight loss, whereas others go through weight gain.
  • Changes in mood: Mood changes are also signs of the presence of SAD. A commonly-reported sign is an excessive or sudden agitation.
  • Negative thoughts and emotions: The presence of lingering negative thoughts and emotions is one of the most classic signs of depression.
  • Suicidal thoughts: The most severe cases can lead to the presence of suicidal thoughts. If you or someone you know are contemplating suicide, please seek help immediately!

If one or more of the above signs are present, then it may be best to see a professional therapist.


Not all signs are present in everyone suffering from the condition, so constant vigilance helps.


Ways of Dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder

There are several ways of dealing with seasonal affective disorder. Some of these are the following:


1.      Medication

group of young adults playing in winterSome doctors recommend certain types of medications that can be used to deal with SAD.


Examples include Selective Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors or SSRIs, antidepressants, and many others.


However, one should not take medications without first consulting a doctor.


As with many other types of medications, one should also be aware of the possible side effects.


Medication is not an end-all, be-all solution. For the long-term, we typically recommend a combination of natural methods.


2.      Natural sunlight exposure

Scientists believe that SAD is linked to the low amount of sunlight that places receive during the winter.


As such, it may help those affected to expose themselves deliberately to sunlight when present.


Natural light works best and extra exposure for even a few more minutes each day may help.


3.      Light box therapy

boy cross country skiing in winter
Unfortunately, some places do not receive significant amounts of sunlight during the winter months.


An alternative to natural light is light box therapy.


This method has been used to considerable effect for decades and uses a device that exposes a person to light. However, one should not utilize this solution without the knowledge of a doctor as it has side effects.


If you have the go signal from your doctor, make sure that you choose your light box carefully. Particular things that you have to look for in a light box include the following:


  • Preferably should be able to emit 10,000 lux of light
  • The box should emit as little ultraviolet light as possible since UV is harmful

Once you have a suitable light box, make sure that you follow the instructions carefully.


Particular things to note are exposure times, intensity, the distance of exposure, among other factors.


4.      Proper diet

two teenage girls pose for winter selfie
Studies show that people who suffer from SAD tend to eat more foods rich in carbohydrates.


Unfortunately this can lead to significant weight gain and can spiral on to other problems.


If you believe that overeating carbohydrates is one of SAD’s effects on you, then take note.


Try to control the amount of carbohydrates that you consume.


Doing so can help reduce the physical impact of SAD and prevent other problems from occurring later on.


5.      Take supplements

Scientists suggest that Vitamin D can help in the management of SAD.


Unfortunately, our bodies usually produce less of this in the lack of sunlight.


To counteract this, try consuming more food that can provide your body with Vitamin D.


You may also take supplements containing the vitamin during the winter months.


6.      Exercise and stay active

Exercise is proven to have effects on energy and mood.


In fact, exercise has been found to be a natural way of dealing with depression.


Exercising and staying active during months when SAD manifests can help in minimizing its signs and symptoms.


Exercise can also help in boosting energy and having a positive impact on mood. It is likely due to the hormones released by the body during exercise.


7.      Take a walk

girl in winter attire in snow
It can be rather tempting to just stay inside during the winter months. But try to resist that temptation!


Going out and taking a walk is an excellent form of exercise.


It also exposes you to much-needed sunlight, which affects your sleep-wake cycle and helps in vitamin D production.


Now you might be walking on ice or snow, so dress accordingly and take necessary precautions.


Remember, it’s far better to embrace Ottawa winter rather than hide from it!



8.      Stay in touch with your loved ones

As with the other forms of depression, surrounding yourself with positivity also helps.


One of the best ways of doing so is by staying in touch with your loved ones.


Surrounding yourself with family and friends that support you can have a positive impact on mood and outlook.


9.      See a therapist

Seeking professional help is best when one suffers from mental health issues.


Consult with a therapist if you or someone that you know may have SAD.


A therapist can recommend forms of treatment that can help minimize the negative impacts of the condition.


Deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder the Right Way

Seasonal affective disorder can be very problematic if not dealt with properly.


If you suspect that you or someone you know may have SAD, then see a therapist right away. It is one of the best ways of dealing with this condition. Capital Choice Counseling has the best therapists in Ottawa, and we are experienced in dealing with this condition.


Contact us today to get started,