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Navigating Winter Blues: Insights from an Okanagan Therapist's Perspective

As the winter chill settles in and daylight becomes a fleeting commodity, the ‘winter blues’ tend to cast their shadows over many of us. As an Okanagan therapist, I've seen firsthand what profound effects this seasonal shift has, significantly impacting our mood and overall well-being. Reduced sunlight exposure during this time of year appears to be the leading cause of seasonal mood changes, finding that it causes a disruption to our circadian rhythm, which in turn impairs a healthy regulation of vital hormones like Serotonin and Melatonin.


These hormonal shifts aren't just biological; they manifest in our emotions and behaviors. Symptoms such as lethargy, low energy, social withdrawal, and negative thinking patterns can become pronounced during this season. It's not uncommon for people to feel a sense of guilt, hopelessness, lose interest in things they once enjoyed, increase in appetite or even contemplate the weighty notion of life's meaning. Year after year, I sit with those who have found themselves in this defeated and hopeless state, feeling powerless and like their only option is to ‘ride out’ the winter as best possible until spring.


I would like to take the opportunity to share here, that while winter is inevitable, there is hope for positive change this time of year and ultimately, ‘beating the winter blues’, both for this winter and all the winters to come.


Here are some strategies from an Okanagan therapist to consider:


Phototherapy

We understand that the limited sunlight exposure plays a large part in feeling blue. So it would make sense that beginning your day, basking in the light of a light therapy lamp to compensate for the diminished sunlight might help.

 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This evidence-based psychotherapy practice has been found to significantly improve both negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with the winter season.

 

Mindfulness

Mindfulness helps bring us back to the present moment and cultivate a non-judgmental awareness of the events of each moment without having to label them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. As mentioned, our general narrative during the winter season might lean into the negative and have us predicting more negative events to come. Mindfulness helps interrupt ingrained thinking patterns, bring us back to the neutral space of the present moment and have more agency on what thoughts and behaviors we engage in.

 

Managing your ‘Input’s’

It is a season where we often find ourselves indoors and more isolated than usual. It is important to take charge of your mental inputs, managing exposure to negative or unhelpful types of social media, news, and interpersonal interactions.

 

Create a Cozy Indoor Haven

The Danish introduced the notion of ‘Hygge’ which invites the principles of infusing warmth and joy into your indoor space. This can look like engaging in things like lighting candles, watching uplifting movies, hosting intimate gatherings, or losing yourself in a good book.

 

Engage and Connect

Humans are social creatures, and our brains and bodies are wired for connection. It is encouraged to reach out to friends and family, explore local events and foster connections within your community, as social bonds are a potent antidote to the winter blues.

 

Establish Meaningful Routines

Habits and routines are key to prioritizing the essentials of nourishing your body, getting quality sleep, engaging in regular physical activity, and nurturing your social connections. If you had ‘summer-centric’ activities such as outdoor exercise or gardening, that worked well for you, see if you can shift the activities to better align with winter conditions such as nurturing an indoor garden or laying up for outdoor exercise in the cold weather.

 

I ask you to take a moment here and reflect on how you might apply some of the above into your daily practices.


What would small, accessible, and manageable changes look like in these areas of your life?


It is important to acknowledge that we might not feel like making these changes in the moment and they might not ‘quick fix’ for the symptoms right away. However, as the days pass and you continue to engage and build on these practices, I hope you will notice a positive shift in mood, energy and overall well being, as many of my clients do.


A lasting note for those experiencing the winter blues or any other mental health struggles, to know that help is available, and healing is possible. I encourage you to seek professional support whether that be in the form of speaking with your Okanagan therapist or doctor or reaching out to resources in your community. Starting the conversation can often make a world of difference.


Wishing you a winter season filled with warmth, growth, and resilience,


Lucinda Bibbs, RCC, MC

Clinic Co-Owner, Registered Clinical Counsellor Resources

South Okanagan Counselling


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