The winter months in Canada are notoriously long and harsh.  The increased darkness, bitter cold and lack of sunlight can leave you feeling lethargic and down.  For some people this can become a case of seasonal affectiveness disorder (SAD)Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or Depression with Seasonal Pattern, is a type of depression that occurs at a certain time of the year, usually in the fall or winter months when there is less natural sunlight. Symptoms of SAD can include feelings of sadness or hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite and weight, and social withdrawal. It is estimated that SAD affects approximately 5% of the population, with women being more likely to experience it than men. The exact cause of SAD is not yet fully understood, but it is thought to be related to changes in circadian rhythm and the production of serotonin and melatonin in response to decreased sunlight exposure. People with a family history of any form of depression or bipolar diagnoses may also be at risk of developing SAD.

Symptoms of SAD

  • Feeling listless, sad or down most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having low energy and feeling sluggish
  • Having problems with sleeping too much
  • Experiencing carbohydrate cravings, overeating and weight gain
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having thoughts of not wanting to live

Canadians are particularly at risk, as we have considerably decreased sunlight during the winter months. This is compounded by less socializing, less activity and sometimes fluctuating moods.   How can we combat these feelings over the winter months?

SAD in the winter months

Ways to cope with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)


1. Exercise/outdoor sports

We can make a lot of lifestyle choices that will enable us to better combat the winter blues; these involve activity levels, diet and sleep.  Exercise will help increase your physical and mental well-being, ease your stress, and reduce feelings of lethargy. As difficult as it is to go outside in the winter months, aim for 30 minutes, 3-5 times per week.  A quick walk and fresh air is restorative.  Alternatively, look into taking up a winter sport, perhaps ice skating or skiing.

Eat a healthy diet and be mindful not to overindulge cravings for high sugar/starch/fatty foods. Try to maintain a good balance with plenty of fruits and vegetables.  Fruits high in Vitamin C, such as citrus, will help boost your immune system as well.

Make sure to stick to regular sleeping habits to combat fatigue and avoid oversleeping. With less sunshine, it may be easier to oversleep and be less productive.

Ensure that you keep up with all of your physiotherapy and massage treatments to maintain your sense of well being and happiness.  

2. Visit your Naturopathic Doctor

Your Naturopathic doctor (ND) will have a number of suggestions for battling SAD.  From supplement suggestions to acupuncture, there are many options available to make you more comfortable during this grey period. For example, Vitamin D is an important supplement that plays many crucial roles in the body:  from boosting immunity to aiding in bone health, it is beneficial to maintain healthy Vitamin D levels throughout the year.  During the summer or in warmer climates, Vitamin D supplementation is less important as it is synthesized in the body with exposure to the sun.  During the winter months, supplementation is easy by means of drops or tablets.

Research has shown that vitamin D might play an important role in regulating mood and decreasing the risk of depression.  A review of 7,534 people found that those experiencing negative emotions who received vitamin D supplements noticed an improvement in symptoms. How much Vitamin D should you take during the winter months?  2000 IU daily is an average dosage that will be impactful.  Consult your practitioner at the Health First Group to talk about your Vitamin D requirements.

3. Light Therapy

Some studies have identified light therapy as an effective method for improving symptoms. In this therapy, the user sits in front of a special light box or lamp for approximately 30 minutes a day. Light therapy can be administered in a doctor’s office, or at home with your own equipment on a schedule recommended by a clinician. You should consult with your doctor before beginning light therapy. Light therapy is not suitable for everyone as there can be negative side-effects associated with this treatment including eye strain, agitation, headaches, and nausea.

4. Seeing a psychologist

The most widely recommended psychotherapy for SAD is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).  CBT helps individuals focus on immediate thoughts, moods, and feelings, which allows problems to be broken down and made more manageable. 

More information is available at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH): provides general information about symptoms and treatments for SAD.

Don’t wait while you’re in pain, request an appointment today at The Health First Group in Mississauga Millcreek, Mississauga Heartland, or Etobicoke. Our practitioners in all three cities are ready to educate you on movement and your pain, to get you feeling like normal. This article was written by Hina Shaikh, PT who works at our Mississauga Millcreek location as a physiotherapist.