Why your mood changes when winter arrives (and why that’s normal)

It’s the early days of November, and the warm summer sunshine has turned into frosty air, the leaves have fallen off the trees, and you see snow every morning. Your days feel like they’re getting shorter, because the sun rises so much later (not until after 8:30 am!) and sets almost 3 hours earlier than it did in the summer, leaving the sky in darkness for much of the day. But the weather isn’t all that has changed – perhaps you’ve noticed that you feel tired all of the time, or you want to eat more than usual. Maybe your children are anxious and cranky and your friends are irritable.

What’s going on?

While the symptoms listed above are uncomfortable and can impact your daily routine, they are usually normal. Many Canadians experience the same symptoms as winter gets close, and they are due in large part to the changes in weather and lack of sunlight we experience compared to the summer time. As your body adjusts to the new weather patterns it is very common to experience the following:

  • Tiredness (maybe you drink more coffee or tea than normal)
  • Anxiousness or irritability
  • Feeling hungry more often than usual (especially craving bread, rice, or sugar)
  • Occasional interrupted sleep
  • A desire to stay home rather than go out with friends

These symptoms usually go away within a couple of weeks, especially if you follow our tips for handling the winter season. However, in a small percentage of people (about 2-8% of the population), these symptoms do not go away and can get much worse.

If your winter depression won’t go away

For people who experience the symptoms listed above but who have not been able to feel better, there is a small chance that they may suffer from a more serious illness called SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is closely linked to depression. See your doctor if you have had a combination of the following symptoms:

  • Severely disrupted sleep (wanting to sleep all day; finding it difficult to get out of bed)
  • Extreme increases in appetite (overeating causing weight gain), especially for bread and other carbohydrates
  • Feeling depressed nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty

SAD is a recognized illness that affects thousands of Canadians each year – do not be ashamed if you feel that you have these symptoms and want to seek help. There are very successful treatments available for SAD.

What to remember

Remember, many people, even Canadians who have lived here their whole lives, struggle with the change of seasons every year. For most people, the symptoms associated with this change are temporary and manageable. However, if you feel that you need more help overcoming these symptoms and they are either worsening or not going away, don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor or a counselor. Winter may be cold in Canada, but it can also be beautiful and fun, and we hope that you can experience it for yourself.