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(Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
(Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

How to beat the winter blahs Add to ...

Feeling seriously down in the dumps during these short and gloomy winter days? You’re not alone – about 15 per cent of Canadians are affected by some level of seasonal humbuggery. Some tips on how to banish the winter blues.

Potatoes: Don’t eat them and don’t be one

When a person is suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, they may feel the impulse to dive head first into a bag of potato chips. Mark Berber, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Queen’s University in Kingston, says there are two reasons to resist this impulse. Stuffing yourself with junk food will likely bring on weight gain – never a good thing in terms of combatting depression – and you should be eating things that will help you to feel healthy and energized.

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“Veggies, fruit, low-fat protein, basically all the stuff that is good for you is also good for fighting depression,” says Dr. Berber.

A person with SAD may also feel like curling up on the couch and laying low until Easter, but again, fight this urge. “Getting out and exercising is invaluable in terms of fighting seasonal depression,” says Dr. Berber. “You don’t have to be running miles. Really, anything that will get you out of your house and into nature will do the trick.”

Fill your calendar

Whether mild or more severe, SAD oftens feel like a chicken-or-egg scenario: Are you spending Friday night watching infomercials because you’re feeling down, or are you feeling down because your social life revolves around a Slap-Chop? The problem is that once you arrive home in the dark, exhausted and freezing, it’s hard to muster the energy to make plans.

“Don’t wait until the day of,” says Dr. Berber, who recommends setting dates and commitments with family and friends well in advance. This way you will feel obliged to take off the Snuggie and socialize. Consider your preferences: a book club, hockey game, cooking class or Pilates with some pals or a weekly family dinner date. The “what” doesn’t matter nearly as much as the “who.” Nurturing connections may be harder when you are feeling down, but it is also one of the easiest (and most fun) ways to get you out of a funk.

See the light

Light therapy is a simple and easy-to-execute alternative to antidepressants that has proven an effective cure in 55 per cent of SAD cases. So it’s definitely worth a shot – especially since prices have come down recently. “You can get a decent machine for about $250,” says Dr. Berber, who recommends the bright light boxes over the machines that simulate the rising of the sun (try day-lights.com).

They’re easy to use (simply sit in front of the light for 20 to 30 minutes a day), and the response time is almost immediate. After using it for five days, you will know if it’s working.

Make winter your BSF (best season forever…obviously)

A good way to combat negative associations is to pro-actively create positive ones. Maybe you think of December through March as a painful penance for patio season, but for others it’s the much anticipated ski season. (Granted, slushy 2012 is, so far, leaving much to be desired on the slopes).

“Taking up a winter hobby will help for so many reasons. You’re outside, which is good for melatonin, you’re exercising, which boosts endorphins, and chances are you’re socializing, which helps with most forms of depression,” says Dr. Berber. If hitting the slopes is not your thing, consider skating, an outdoor running or speed-walking club, or even ice fishing, assuming you can find someone else to go with you.

And don’t do this: Give up or feel like you’re alone. “This condition is so common and so treatable,” says Dr. Berber.

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