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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante    

Grey skies and grey mood

by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

Although the prairie provinces are known to have open and sunny skies, we also get our fair share of grey and dreary weather. For some newcomers, the novelty of seeing snow for the first time can quickly give way to shock when they experience their first season of fall and winter. It can be a huge adjustment, especially when you are used to warmer temperatures all year round.

All Canadians can be affected by seasonal changes and experience some level of depression, especially once the fall begins and the daylight hours get shorter. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, some common symptoms of depression are:

  • Feelings of sadness and loss
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Feelings of extreme impatience, irritability, or a short temper
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usually enjoyed activities
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Changes in sleeping patterns, like insomnia
  • Reduced ability to think clearly or make decisions
  • Difficulties in concentrating or with short-term memory loss
  • Constantly feeling tired
  • Noticeable lack of motivation
  • Anxiety and restlessness, sometimes leading to panic attacks
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Constipation or other intestinal problems
  • Frequent headaches
  • Loss of interest in maintaining a good appearance and hygiene
  • Lack of interest in sex
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Recurring thoughts of suicide or self-harm

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons where symptoms most likely begin in the fall and continue throughout the winter months. In addition to the symptoms above, those related to SAD can include:

  • Irritability
  • Problems getting along with people
  • Oversleeping
  • Heaviness in the arms and/or legs
  • Appetite changes, especially for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

If you are experiencing five or more of these symptoms and have been for at least two weeks, it is time to contact your doctor or other health professional. Be prepared to list all the symptoms you have noticed, any patterns of occurrence, other physical or mental health problems, life changes or major situational stressors. You will likely be asked about medications, vitamins, or supplements that you are taking. Some effective treatments for SAD can include light therapy or phototherapy where you stay in close proximity to a special light therapy box or lamp. This exposure to bright light can mimic outdoor light and change the brain chemicals linked to mood. Some doctors prescribe certain anti-depressant medications. Psychotherapy can also help by learning to identify and change negative thoughts and behaviours. Counselling can be a way to explore healthier ways of coping and managing stress.

If you notice that you have a lower mood as the season changes, here are some tips to adopt a healthy lifestyle and start feeling better today:

  • Exercise regularly like going for walks, bike rides or yoga
  • Pray and meditate daily
  • Volunteer with a community organization or by helping a neighbour
  • Talk to friends and family and spend more time with them
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Limit your time with technology such as TV, the Internet, social media, and texting. These activities can take away valuable time with loved ones
  • Eliminate addictive behaviours such as smoking, alcohol and drug use, gambling, and excessive shopping
  • Count the blessings of every day: Start a gratitude journal, and say, “thank you” and “I love you” to family and friends.

“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” – Mother Teresa

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

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