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Winter Blues or something more? Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

If you’ve been finding yourself feeling down this winter, you’re not alone. January and February have reputations for being some of the least favorable months when it comes to mental health. When the excitement of the festive season passes, and holiday bills begin to arrive, many individuals in Canada may experience what’s called the Winter Blues. But for some people, it’s much more than that.  

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that significantly affects thoughts, mood, and behavior, and is characterized by a recurrent seasonal pattern.1 Most often occurring during the winter months, SAD symptoms typically start at the end of fall and carry on until spring.  

Symptoms include:

While it’s understandable if you want to stick indoors this time of year, doing so could exacerbate symptoms. Studies indicate that sunlight affects the brain’s ability to maintain normal levels of serotonin – the chemical that helps regulate mood! Vitamin D (produced by sunlight) is also believed to promote serotonin activity. With less daylight to enjoy in the winter, people with SAD may experience lower vitamin D levels, further reducing serotonin activity.1

Fortunately, there are ways to help decrease symptoms and increase your mood indoors: get moving! When you exercise your body, you release endorphins and feel-good chemicals that reduce feelings of pain and increase feelings of pleasure, literally boosting your mood! Just 20-30 minutes of movement daily can have a big impact on mental health.2

If you’re looking for motivation, in just a few short days we’re gearing up to participate in The Push Up Challenge! From February 1-23, we’re pushing to complete 2,000 push-ups to represent the 20% of Canadians who will experience a mental illness each year. While push-ups are greatly encouraged, any form of exercise that’s exciting to you is welcome! 

Whether you’re facing occasional winter melancholy or suspect you might be experiencing SAD, understanding the distinction empowers you to seek professional help if needed.  

If you need support, please contact your local CMHA or visit the Government of Canada’s Wellness Together portal.  

If you are in crisis: 9-8-8 is for anyone who is thinking about suicide, or who is worried about someone they know. Connect to a responder to get help without judgement. Call or text 9-8-8 toll-free, anytime for support in English or French. Call 9-8-8 (toll-free, 24/7) or text 9-8-8 (toll-free, 24/7). For more information, visit

Intrigued by The Push-Up Challenge? There’s still time to sign-up!

  1. Seasonal Affective Disorder | NIMH (
  2. Endorphins and exercise 101: Exposing the mysterious link between them | ParticipACTION (