Fight Seasonal Affective Disorder with physical activity


Winter has arrived and that means shorter days with less sunlight. For some of us, the dreary weather brings on Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD) and makes us feel overall sluggish and not like ourselves.

SAD is a fairly common disorder that effects over 15 per cent of Canadians. Some of the symptoms are:

  • Fatigue and extreme exhaustion
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Troubles focusing
  • Feeling tense, stressed, irritable and generally depressed
  • Appetite changes

Don’t fret if this sounds like you, there are plenty of things you can do to get out of that winter slump.

Boost your energy

Believe it or not, one of the best ways to increase your energy is to get physically active. Although it may feel tough to get started, you will notice that within a few minutes you feel more energized.

Keeping up with an activity program will also help you sleep better because your body and muscles will be tired at bedtime. Quality sleep will make you more focused during the day and progressively feel less fatigued as the weeks go on, so sticking with it is important.

If you need some activity ideas to get you moving, check out the Activities page.

Improve your mood

Evidence shows that even as little as a 10 to 15 minute walk can help to boost your mood in a big way. A study from General Hospital Psychiatry found that of 300 people surveyed, 85 per cent of them felt improved mood and lessened anxiety levels because of being physically active.

This happens because feel good hormones like serotonin are released. Being active also produces endorphins, which are chemicals that pass signals along in your brain, and in return, reduce the amount of anxiety promoting hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.

Get your rest

It’s normal to feel extra tried during the winter months and getting quality sleep is important for fighting the winter blues. Physical activity will help you sleep better but having a bedtime routine can also improving your sleep.

Try things like going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, getting at least eight hours of sleep and limiting screen time before bed.

Get outside

It may be a little chilly outside, but the natural light and physical activity are the best ways to combat SAD. Here are a few winter activity tips:

  • With the short days it can be difficult to see the sun. Try adjusting your schedule to fit in the daylight hours. This may mean starting a little earlier or later than normal, but be sure not to compromise your sleep.
  • Go for a walk during your lunch break to catch some rays and boost your mood.
  • Dress appropriately for the weather. Don’t forget mittens, toques, scarves and layers to stay comfortable while outdoors.
  • Try a winter activity. Skiing, snowshoeing, tobogganing, snowboarding and skating are great activities to get the whole family moving.

Talk to your doctor

If you are feeling down, visiting your doctor to talk about your options is the best thing you can do. You should never suffer silently or feel ashamed about seeking help.

Also, wonderful listeners are available 24/7 with mental health teams in every province. Find your local crisis centre here.