• Dr. Stuart Wellness

Battling the winter blues- things you can do to ward off winter depression

Updated: Feb 12, 2019

It’s about -27 degrees Celsius right now in my part of Canada with a real feel of -41. The beginning of winter was pretty good in my city. But for the last two weeks we’ve been bludgeoned with mostly -20s, and we still aren’t getting enough light to healthily impact our moods. Mild Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a reality for one fifth of all Canadians, with 2 to 6 % of the population suffering a more severe form of the disorder. Symptoms of SAD include fatigue, a depressed mood, withdrawal from social contacts and sometimes weight gain. Anyone who suffers from depression or SAD can attest to the fact that feeling vibrant or energetic during winter can at times feel like a battle. Here are a few things you can do to increase your energy and improve your mood when SAD creeps in.

1. Light Therapy

Light therapy has been found to have an anti- depressant effect in up to 70% of patients who suffer from SAD. Discuss this option with your doctor if you are interested in trying it as negative side effects may occur.

2. Plan Ahead

Plan ahead to take especially good care of yourself during the winter months. Plan pleasurable activities you can look forward to during your week. Plan to connect regularly with loved ones or with people that can support you during difficult times. Plan holidays in warmer sunnier parts of the world. Be mindful of negative thought patterns that can trigger depressed moods. Know you can take a break from negative thinking. You can challenge the validity of negative thoughts. You can choose to focus on more positive thoughts such as your strengths or the things in your life for which you are grateful.

3. Stay Active

Exercise may help decrease SAD’ symptoms. Regular exercise can ward off fatigue and depression, particularly when you exercise in the sun or near strong light sources. Take a midday walk or find an outdoor winter activity you can enjoy.

4. Nourish & supplement your body

Although studies are inclusive at the moment, there is a tentative link between low levels of vitamin D and SAD. Check with your doctor if you think you may need Vitamin D supplementation.


Below is a Forrest yoga sequence designed to alleviate some of the symptoms of SAD. As always remember to talk to your doctor regarding your winter blues, or when undertaking new exercise programs.

1. Turn up the heat and get your breath deep.

Turn the heat up in the room you will practice, anywhere between 26 to 30 degrees Celsius. If you live in a particularly dry area turn on your humidifier as well. Breath as deeply as you can with an ocean sound in your breathing. This type of breathing is known as ujjaji breath. Deep breathing and heat encourages a good sweat. In TCM depression is considered qi stagnation. Heat helps qi to move, and releases blockages in body energy. (Please see anxiety article for further description on how to do ujjayi breathing)

2. Bhramari Breathing

In a comfortable seated position (you can sit on a block if that feels more comfortable than sitting on the floor), place your hands over your ears, pressing the cartilage that protects the ear canal gently down. Inhale deeply and on your exhale make a loud humming sound like a bee. Feel the vibration in your jaw. As you advance try to feel the vibration in parts of your torso. Play with the pitch of your hum. Do 5 rounds

3. Frog Lifting through Pose on the Wall

Sit shin’s length from the wall and lie on your back, legs bent at a 90-degree angle, feet flat on the wall. Separate your legs and turn your feet out in a frog position. Have the shins parallel to the floor. Interlock fingers behind the head. On an inhale curl head and shoulders up off the floor, exhale press the lower back into the floor press the feet into the wall, curl the tailbone up, at the end of the exhale pull belly down. Keep the head and shoulders up throughout all the remaining repetitions. Inhale release the curl in the pelvis, exhale curl tailbone up pressing the lower back down. You’ve just completed two rounds. Do 5 to 8 rounds

4. Downward Dog at the Wall

Omit this pose if you are not yet able to practice downward dog for at least 8 breaths.

Move into downward facing dog with the heels touching the wall. Inhale step one foot at a time approximately 3 feet up the wall. Legs should be parallel to the floor and the torso perpendicular to it. More beginners, press the feet firmly into the wall. Work up to holding this pose for 10 breaths, then step one leg down at a time directly to the floor.

5. Sun Salutations

This is a wonderful way to move blood and stagnated energy.

· Start standing tall, hands in front the heart

· Inhale reach the arms up to the ceiling, if you feel comfortable you can move into a back-bend as shown in the second image below

· Exhale bend forward, finish your exhale with the hands touching the floor.

· Inhale step left foot back into lunge pose, keep the front heel grounded, no strain in the knees or ankles

· Exhale step into plank, inhale in plank pose

· Exhale knees to the floor, draw the shoulders away from the ears and lower the torso to touch the floor

· Hands under the shoulders or in front of the shoulders, press the top of the thighs into the floor, reach back through your legs and lift the chest into cobra pose

· Exhale move into downward facing dog

· Inhale step left foot forward into lunge pose

· Exhale into a forward bend

· Inhale lift the torso up stand tall or move into a standing back-bend.

· Exhale hands in front of the heart returning to the beginning of the sequence.

Repeat this sequence on the right leg. You have just completed two rounds. Do at least 3 rounds or until you feel your body getting warm from the flow. I like to the do the sequence until I sweat. The amount you do however is a personal choice.

6. Laying Down Spinal Twist

Lie with the back flat on the floor, arms at a 90-degree angle from the torso, feet flat on the floor. On an inhale, draw knees towards the chest, on an exhale release the knees over the right side of your body, let the feet relax on the floor, keep the left shoulder either on the floor or moving towards the floor. Stay 3 to 8 breaths. Focus on expanding the chest. Repeat on the opposite side.

7. Savasana opening the chest variation

Roll a large towel so its diameter is approximately 6 inches. Lie on the floor, place the base of the roll in line with the bottom of your shoulder blades. Rest the head on a block. There should be no discomfort in the back or neck. If there is, practice regular savasana with no props. Stay in the pose for 5 minutes.

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