Blue Me Away

Winter Blues
Blue Me Away

To take a page out of Kermit’s book, it’s not easy being blue.

We know because while we’re not quite navy, we’ve definitely been feeling azure or even maybe aqua lately.

But according to our good doctor, Dr. Ariel Dalfen, MD, staff psychiatrist at Mount Sinai Hospital (Toronto), blue is a pretty common way to feel at this time of year.

Technically, the winter blues are a form of mild depression brought on by a decrease in exposure to sunlight as we move through autumn and winter. About 25% of people are affected by it and four times more women than men (so not fair) suffer from the winter blues (and its more severe counterpart, Seasonal Affective Disorder).

The scientific scoop? The winter blues are thought to be caused by changes in melatonin and serotonin levels, which can affect mood, hunger and sleep. Sufferers experience changes in their mood, energy level and ability to concentrate. Sound familiar? While not as severe as long-term depression, the winter blues can indeed affect the way we think, react and deal with everyday challenges. (Read: blaming the cashier at the grocery store for the candy on display that your toddler is grabbing and begging for or screaming your head off when your car gets stuck in a snow bank.)

Dr. Dalfen suggests that if you experience two or more of these symptoms each year in the fall and into the spring you too may suffer from the winter blues:

  • Increased feelings of lethargy
  • Difficulty waking up in the mornings as the days get shorter
  • Difficulty concentrating and thinking creatively in comparison to the summer months
  • Incorrectly blaming oneself for things that go wrong
  • Difficulty performing tasks that normally seem to be easy/enjoyable
  • Increased craving for carbohydrate-rich food like chocolate (OK—we know this could be a constant state for some!)

So what to do to be less blue?


Shine a Little Light into Your Life - Not just the smiling faces of your children, but literally more exposure to light, especially in the morning. Try a morning walk or sit by a large window to read the paper. Car pool schedule not making this possible? Light boxes (which emit high intensities of light 10 to 20 times more than normal light fixtures) can help as well.

Run About – And we’re not talking errands! Aerobic exercise, which increases serotonin levels, has proven to help combat the winter blues. (One hour doing aerobic exercise outside (even with a cloudy sky overhead) has the same benefits as 2.5 hours of light treatment indoors. Take that walk, have a snowball fight, or schedule a day of skating, skiing, or sledding.

Eat the Right Carbs – Craving sugar these days? (Thanks goodness for the Valentine’s Day chocolate interlude.) Carbohydrate is effective in increasing serotonin levels—so your body knows what it’s doing. Try eating larger portions of complex carbohydrates, like pasta and rice, and healthy simple carbohydrates like fruit and stay away from unhealthy snacks that will cause momentary satisfaction, but ultimately decrease energy.

Sleepytime – Oversleeping and fluctuations in your sleep-wake schedule can increase your levels of melatonin (bad). Try to set a regular bedtime and wake up at the same time each day, making sure you get the sleep you need. The week-end sleep-in apparently isn’t that good for you (which we only mentioned to make you feel better every Saturday morning at 6:30 when Jack and Jill come screaming into your room).

Break Up Your Routine – The doctor’s number one tip—do something you wouldn’t normally do. Try an indoor rock climbing gym, take the kids somewhere you used to love when you were a kid or treat yourself to an at-home pedicure.

Try a few of these tips and you’ll feel better around May (just about the same time that your kids’ runny noses clear up). Dr. Ariel notes, though, that if you are not feeling better once the warmth of the sun arrives, you might want to go and talk to your doctor about it.

This season, blue is out and green is in.

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First published 2007.02.20

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