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I suffer from severe winter blues. It starts around January and by March, I am at my wits end. I come from a tropical climate and the sever cold and lack of sunlight makes me just want to go crazy.
I have been living in Toronto for past 8 years.

Always taking a vacation to an exotic place is not possible. What are some things I can do? If I try to get used to winter sports, will it help? I am 34, quite fit but I tried skiing and it was so cold.

I don't want to become a couch potato watching tv for 4 - 5 months of the year. What are some things I can do?

This year I bought a 10,000 lux light bulb, will it help?

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This answer is based on the fact that you have been in a region with less sunlight for several years and continue to suffer. It therefore focuses on Seasonal Affective Disorder, which you may or may not have.

Seasonal affective disorder is an actual illness, and a form of depression. Unfortunately, it is underdiagnosed and undertreated. It is recognized in DSM—5 as Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern.

Diagnosis and treatment are best left to a professional, and may include therapy and medication. However, there are some ways to at least try to make it less severe or that can ease "winter blues" that isn't severe enough to be diagnosed as SAD.

  • Go outside when it's light as often as possible. This even helps when it's grey and cloudy outside
  • while it's light outside, if you need to be indoors, be close to a window where your body can register that it is still light outside
  • Exercise regularly

Light therapy is effective, but is hard to get right alone - just sitting in front of a bright light occasionally is not enough.

Sources and further reading

Mayo Clinic: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Mayo Clinic: Light Box Therapy

Seasonal Affective Disorder in Am Fam Physician (good overview with details on light therapy)

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  • I suppose what makes it hard for those who are suffering is to find the will to do what is required to help them. – adipro Dec 6 '16 at 18:23
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While most people don't want to believe it, the effect of winter on your mood is mostly all in how you choose to deal with it.

In Tromso Norway, winter-time depression is among the lowest rates of any population in the entire world. They also have some of the longest winters, owing to the fact that they are among the northern-most cities in the world.

The main reason they don't experience depression is because they view the coming of winter as a positive thing. You should do anything you can to make you look forward to the season, such as taking up skiing or another winter sport. You could also ask some of your friends what they are doing during the season and see if you could join them. You can even stay inside and get the same effects, but you have to look forward to the time. Hot chocolate and a good book or favorite movie for example.

You can read more in this article in the atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/07/the-norwegian-town-where-the-sun-doesnt-rise/396746/

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  • 3
    Staying in with hot chocolate is good for a weekend, not for 4 months of the year. That leads to cabin fever. – Victor Jul 17 '15 at 0:44
  • Just a kind suggestion; main idea is to put habits in place that you look forward to, and that was one possibility that comes to mind. – Eli Riekeberg Jul 29 '15 at 18:42
  • "winter-time depression is among the lowest rates of any population in the entire world" can you add a citation for that? The research linked in the Atlantic article doesn't mention it and the Atlantic article only says "lower rates of wintertime depression than would be expected given the long winters and high latitude" – YviDe Nov 1 '15 at 13:51
  • @YviDe The "lower rates of wintertime depression than would be expected given the long winters and high latitude" is what is needed, because you need to keep the exposure to dark winter conditions equal when making comparisons. – Count Iblis Nov 2 '15 at 16:24
  • The research still found sleeping problems in over 10 percent and depression (self-reported, which is notorious for being lower than the real number) in about 8 percent of the population. A far cry from the "they don't experience depression" in this answer. – YviDe Nov 2 '15 at 16:29
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Toronto is cold in Winter, but it is located at 43.7 degrees Northern Lattitude, which is similar to the lattitude of Marseille in Southern France. So, you can hardly say that this is a dark place in Winter. I think the main problem is that in Winter the days are a bit shorter so it may still be dark when you go to work and when you're back it is already starting to get dark. You can then get some sunlight by going outside during the lunch break.

You also mention the cold, but Toronto isn't so extremely cold that going outside would be a challenge even when properly dressed. This this means that you are not wearing good winter clothing and then suffer as a result of that. This makes you avoid going outside, which leads to the winter blues, which causes you to become reticent to going outside even more. And, of course, if you feel like going to sleep, you may start to feel a bit chilly even while sitting in a properly heated room; the thought of going outside when it is -20 C alone may then make you stay indoors.

You have to stop associating the feeling of cold with the outside conditions. What you feel is your own body heat, this is regulated by your own body thermostat. Simply dressing properly will allow you to use your own body heat to stay warm outside.

The basics of how to dress well is quite simple:

Winter clothing

The key thing is to wear multiple layers, a lot of air will be trapped in between the layers which will give a good insulation against the cold. In the picture the girl is wearing rather light clothing appropriate for physical exertion in cold conditions. If you're going to be doing only light exertions, then the thermal underwear must be thicker different, e.g. you can use this. If it is colder than about -25 C then ski trousers won't do, you must wear down filled trousers. You may also need a wind stopper on top of that. The hat you wear cannot be just any ordinary hat, if it is cold you need to wear an Arctic hat like this:

Arctic hat

In extremely cold conditions, face masks like this can keep your entire face warm and moisten the air you breath in using the moist in the exhaled air.

Finally, the boots should be of good quality, the best boots have multiple layers with removable inner boots, these are capable of keeping your feet warm at temperatures as low as -40 C.

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