It can be hard to remind ourselves we live in one of the most beautiful cities on Earth when the winter rains start — when the beaches empty and the sun sets before 4 p.m., and we have to trade in our trade flip-flops for galoshes.
For some of us, the fleeting daylight and perpetual drizzle does more than give us the winter blues.
According to Raymond Lam, a psychiatry professor at the University of B.C. and director of the mood-disorders centre on campus, extreme winter doldrums — or seasonal affective disorder — is a form of clinical depression.
“The interesting thing about SAD is it only affects people during the winter, and that’s different from other types of depression,” he said.
“We think it’s more related to latitude than weather conditions. It’s related to the length of the day, and the days get shorter as you go farther north.”
Part of the theory is that there’s a disturbance of the biological clock, which is controlled by light.
SAD — as opposed to plain old winter blahs — manifests itself in various ways including low mood, loss of interest, over-eating, weight gain, fatigue and over-sleeping.
“How we treat people is through light therapy,” Lam said. “They only need about 30 minutes of exposure to this (high dose of) light every day.
“It also works better in the very early morning because it may be that the timing of the light is more important than the amount of light.”
Lam added that the winter weather — the cold, grey drizzle — can also compound the depression because it makes people reduce their outdoor activities.
For anyone affected by Vancouver’s dreary winters, he suggests dressing for the elements and going outside.
“Spend more time outdoors even when it’s dull and grey,” he said. “Take a lunchtime walk, get some exercise and eat less heavy lunches.”