As winter approaches, we insulate windows and stow away garden implements. We take the car in for a tune up. But what can we do to prepare mentally for the short, cold days of winter?

“Self care is really, really important,” urged Franki Harrogate, a graduate student counselor and founder of Arclight Counselling Services. “Making sure you’re eating and sleeping right, anything to elevate your mood.”

For seniors, complications related to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or its cousin, seasonal depression, are intensified. Seniors encounter big changes that can contribute to depression, like loss of friends or the death of a spouse.

“Seniors experience a decreasing social circle,” said Harrogate. “A decrease in sunlight during winter tends to affect everyone to a degree, but it’s amplified for someone who’s already experiencing isolation, who has no human contact.”

Having supports with good connections helps anytime, but especially in winter.

“Maintaining connections to community is important, things such as community leagues or community centres,” said Harrogate.

At the seniors lunch at Crystal Kids Youth Centre, Kim Eades, a community resident, agreed.
“I have to get outside, every day,” she said. “Interacting with people is so important.”

Activities like walking with a friend or visiting can help. Harrogate urges community leagues to consider services that help seniors leave the house, such as snow shoveling or developing a list of volunteers to provide transportation.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), SAD is a type of depression that appears at certain times of the year, usually starting in fall. A less common form affects people in the summer.

A lack of sunlight is thought to trigger the disorder. About three per cent of Canadians will experience SAD, and another 15 per cent will get a milder form that leaves them slightly depressed, but with no major life disruptions.

Women are more susceptible to SAD, and after the age of 50 its appearance declines.

The CMHA recommends strategies including light therapy, counseling, and self-help remedies such as exercise, getting outside during the day, and even keeping curtains open. Some studies show Vitamin D has mitigating effects.

Beth Murray, a psychologist with Fresh Hope Counselling, said a key to alleviating that sense of being disconnected in winter is not letting your feelings make your decisions.

“You need to make plans and decisions that are helpful,” stressed Murray. “When you’re getting isolated, for instance, think about ways to have connection and involvement.”

So if you think,“I want to go out but I don’t feel like going out”, see the mood behind it, and look past it.

“Downtime can be isolating. If you’re alone inside, you should question your motive for staying at home,” said Murray.

Cognitive re-direction practices are also helpful, such as meditation or even going through your photo albums. But don’t think of one practice as the only answer, cautioned Harrogate.

“Whatever works,” she said. “It takes practice to shift your routine or perspective. Try and see if something works for you. If not, recalibrate and do something else.”

For more ideas, try the following websites:

Featured Image: Kim Eades, left, Rodger Rabbit, and Orycia Lemal take in sunshine during the seniors lunch program at Crystal Kids Youth Centre. Gathering for a community meal is one of many ways to socialize as winter approaches. | Kate Wilso