Ten Ways Caregivers Can Ease the Winter Blues

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type depression related to the change of seasons but it’s about more than just feeling down because its winter. SAD is a condition characterized by recurrent episodes of depression that can start as early as fall and last until April or May.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, SAD affects approximately 5% of Canadians, with another 15% who experience a milder form of winter blues. Those who experience SAD often feel stressed, fatigued, irritable, sad and guilty. They can also feel a sense of hopelessness.

While many caregivers find their role fulfilling there are many who experience these feelings of sadness, isolation and guilt all-year round, which is why it’s important for Caregivers to pay particular attention to their own mental health at this time of year. 

If you’re experiencing signs of SAD there are things you can do to help reduce stress, increase energy and improve your mood.

1.     Maintain a healthy diet

It’s not always easy to make healthy choices but choosing foods that are nutritious can help with your mood and energy levels.

  • Eat a variety of whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables to keep your energy up. Read Canada’s new food guide for recipes and healthy eating tips.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to ward off moderate or mild symptoms of depression. Include flax seeds, walnuts and salmon in your diet.
  • Reduce or avoid alcohol and caffeine which can disrupt a good night sleep.
  • Reduce or avoid high carbohydrate and sugary foods which can contribute to feelings of depression.
  • Add a Vitamin D supplement to your diet to help combat the lack of sun exposure. Vitamin D can be found in cow’s milk, soy or rice beverages, orange juice, salmon, eggs, or fortified yogurts.

2.     Confide in a friend or join a support group

Friends may not always know what to say or do but consider starting the conversation. Give friends and family the opportunity to show you how much they care about you. You may also have a caregiver support group in your community. Search 211 using search words Caregiver Support Group or Caregiver Support. You can also participate in an online caregiver forum at caregiverexchange.org.

3.     Talk to your doctor

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, speak to your doctor. Take this short quiz to reflect on your feelings and needs. Getting advice from a trusted health care professional is a good first step in identifying the support you may need.

4.     Try to build routines that get you outside during the day

A brief outdoor walk during the daylight hours can help to reduce stress and improve energy levels. If you need support in the home to enable some time to yourself, search 211 to see what respite is available in your community. Alternatively consider asking a family member, neighbour or friend for help.

5.     Keep your curtains open during the day

Maximize your exposure to sunlight by keeping your window shades open. You may also want to consider replacing lightbulbs with brighter energy saving lightbulbs.  

6.     Consider Light Therapy

Sitting for 30 minutes in front of a special fluorescent light that simulates natural outdoor light, can help improve an individual’s mood and energy levels. Ask your doctor if this might be a good option for you.

7.     Keep a Journal

Writing can help to deal with the negative feelings. Start by writing each day for a week. Reflect on your thoughts, feelings and concerns.

8.     Practice Meditation

Clearing your mind is not easy when the “to do” list seems never ending. Finding a few minutes to practice meditation can help to reduce stress. Try finding an app to get you started. 

9.     Accept Help

If you are currently trying to manage everything on your own, consider where you may be able to get some extra help with your daily tasks. Our assessment tool can help you identify everything you do and where you may need help. Perhaps it’s with shoveling or finding alternative transportation on a snowy day. Contact 211 online or by phone (dial 2-1-1) to learn about what supports are available in your community. 

10. Be Kind to Yourself

Many caregivers feel tremendous guilt and worry that they aren’t doing enough. Recognize all that you do. Be proud of yourself and find comfort in knowing that you are making a significant difference to the person you are caring for.

If you need additional help managing symptoms of depression and anxiety, there are provincial services that can help. If you are struggling with depression contact Connex Ontario, Big White Wall, Bounce Back or Kids Help Phone.

Download a printable version of our tip sheet