We’ve come a long way in the last few years when it comes to talking openly about mental health issues like depression, anxiety and even the impact that everyday stress can have on our lives. Many people, both the young and young at heart, suffer from some form of depression or anxiety and let’s be honest – in winter – any symptoms are often exacerbated by the simple fact that the weather is so darn gloomy! Even someone whom we might normally describe as having a “sunny” disposition might find it hard to be happy this time of year.

While December 21st is the shortest day of the year and we start to gain more daylight each day after that as we journey towards spring, it’s not like we gain hours a day overnight! It’s a very slow process, adding just a minute or two of daylight per day. (January sees a gain of between 90 seconds and two minutes and February, about two and a half minutes are added each day.) It’s not surprising therefore that many of us might be affected by the lack of sunlight and in fact, there is a term for this: SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. First recognized in the mid 1980s, it can happen at any time of the year but is more typical in winter. Symptoms are very similar to those of depression and/or anxiety and might include: weakened immunity, irritability, lack of energy, ability to concentrate, sleep disorders and abuse of alcohol, drugs or even overeating.

Much of the research around SAD has focused on the lack of light as being a factor. That’s because “when light hits the retina at the back of the eye, messages are sent to the hypothalamus – the part of the brain responsible for sleep, appetite, sex drive, temperature, mood and activity (and) if there’s not enough light, these functions are likely to slow down and gradually stop.” It is thought that this can have an impact on serotonin levels in our bodies and serotonin is sometimes referred to as “the happy chemical” because it helps contribute to our overall sense of health and wellbeing. Low serotonin can contribute to depression, anxiety, panic attacks and more – meaning overall that for many of us living in northern climates, we are at a greater risk of susceptibility. Some days, it might feel like, despite your best efforts, winter really is causing you to feel anxious and depressed and – you would be right.

What can you do to beat the winter blahs?

Well – obviously that’s going to look different for every individual. Some of you (if health and fitness allow) might choose to embrace the season, get out and make the most of it by skiing, snowshoeing and hiking or skating. Others, with a different set of priorities, might choose to get away from it all and head south to warmer, and sunnier, weather. Your third option? Sign up with Amintro today and make a new friend! We all know the benefits of friends and having someone to talk to, when the weather has us feeling down, is a proven mood changer! Amintro is free, it’s easy to enroll and it just might help you beat those winter blues.

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