Fatigue. Irritability. Oversleeping. Weight gain. Poor concentration. Ever notice any of these symptoms over the Autumn and Winter months? There's a chance you might be struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Did you know that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is categorized as a type of depression linked to the changes in seasons, which is particularly more prevalent during the fall and winter months? It's been estimated that between 2-3% of Canadians will experience SAD at some point in their lifetime.

Should you notice any of these changes in your lifestyle however, take comfort in knowing that there are measures you can take to help you beat feeling "the winter blues".

Consider these options:

  • Get outside: Get as much sunlight as possible! Go for a 15 minute walk and take advantage of the crisp, fresh air before winter arrives. A walk outdoors can definitely help in lifting up your spirits and clear your head. Consider setting a footstep goal everyday, and track your progress. This should help encourage you to get consciously moving actively.
  • Vitamin D: To extend the getting outside component, you want to make sure that you expose some of your skin (when it's not too cold!) to direct sunlight for a nice dose of vitamin D. Too cold for this? Consider taking an oral supplement to make sure your vitamin D stores aren't completely depleted through these months.
  • Eat better: The food you eat has a direct correlation between how your body and your mind feels. Serve your meals with a healthy side dish, using produce that are in season, like beets, brussels sprouts, squash and leafy greens. Focus on warm, cooked foods (think soups, stews, bone broths - anything you can throw in the slow cooker) and avoid cold, raw foods which can be harder to digest which can take a hit on your immune system.
  • Journal: Writing can be cathartic process. Expressing your thoughts through writing creates an emotional release, which helps relieve anxiety. The act of writing allows you to process information, reating self-awareness which allows you to reflect on, and evaluate your feelings. It's also a great way to document your mind frame and habits.
  • Boost your immune system: This time of year is when your immune system takes a big hit and you are most vulnerable to illness. Strengthen your immune system by maintaining proper nutrition, bundling up when heading outdoors (especially protecting your "wind gate" aka. neck!) and staying hydrated. If you know you always get sick this time of year, consider a visit with your ND to get recommendations for supplements and botanicals specific for you.
  • Seek help: A change in behaviour, sleep pattern, energy level, diet, or general lack of interest in activities you otherwise normally enjoy, may be indicative symptoms of SAD. Speak to your doctor and inquire about the various treatments and resources available to you.

By: Petra Najafee, Registered Psychotherapist

Here’s another simple exercise you can use to manage your stress while you’re at work. Breathe.

Yes, I know, if you’re reading this then you’re breathing. But I am challenging you here to take this a step further. To take a step away from the thought stream that is constantly flowing through your mind, and just focus on your breathing for a few minutes. Chances are, your mind will wander back to your work or your family or whatever it is that is most occupying your thoughts these days. That’s okay. It’s normal. But don’t worry, those things will still be there when you’ve finished this exercise so you don’t need to focus on them right now. When your mind wanders off (as it most likely will), just gently remind yourself to focus on your breathing.

Here’s how it goes:

  • Find a comfortable position in your chair. Try to have your feet planted on the floor and your back supported by the chair back. Rest your hands lightly on your thighs, or the arms of your chair (or even on the computer if you want to make it look like you’re working)
  • Close your eyes if you’re comfortable doing so, or just maintain a loose gaze so that your eyes are open but your gaze is not focused.
  • Next, just notice your breath. You might want to do this by noticing the rise and fall of your belly, or your chest. You might want to do this by noticing the air as it passes in and out through your nostrils. Find what works for you and focus on your breath in that way. Try not to force your breath, just pay attention to it as you breathe naturally.
  • Again, when your mind wanders off, just gently remind yourself to focus once again on your breath.

Try this for 3 minutes or 5 minutes or 10 minutes if you can manage it. When you’ve finished, take a moment to notice how you feel. Hopefully you’re feeling just a bit more relaxed and a bit more ready to face the rest of your day.

By: Petra Najafee, Registered Psychotherapist

Here it is folks, workday stress buster #2. It can be done in just a few minutes and it can even be done at your desk! The idea is to tense your muscle groups one by one to the point where they are getting tired enough that there is no choice but to relax them. Here’s how it goes:

  • Start with your toes. Curl your toes and keep them really tight for as long as you can before it starts to get uncomfortable. Then relax them, feel the support of the floor under your feet and allow your feet to sink down into the floor.
  • Next, tighten your calves, with your feet still planted on the floor if you can. Hold this tension, again, until your calves are getting tired and uncomfortable. Then allow all that tension to flow out of your calves and let them relax. Notice the relaxation in your calves and your feet before moving on.
  • Moving upward, focus now on your thighs. Tighten you quads and your hamstrings as best you can and hold the tension there until it is uncomfortable. Then allow the muscles to relax and sink into the chair. Again, take a moment to notice the relaxation in your feet, your calves, and your thighs before moving on.
  • Follow this same process for your buttocks, your stomach, your back, and your shoulders. Many of us hold our tension in our back and shoulders, so pay particular attention to these areas. Allow them to drop comfortably in the relaxation phase.
  • If your door is closed, you can even scrunch up your face really tight and then allow those muscles to relax.

Try the progressive muscle relaxation this week and see how it goes. Even just focusing on a few of the muscle groups where you know you hold your tension can be helpful. Try this one at night as well before going to sleep.

*If you have a history of being physically violent, this tip is not for you as some people find it triggering. If this is the case, continue with tip #1, going for a walk, and stay tuned for next week’s tip.

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