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Wet shoes, cold hands, fogged-up glasses, freezing temperatures, wind chills and dark days. You may find as the temperature drops with shortened days during the winter, so does our mood.

Canadian winters are tough and can bring extra challenges for farmers and those living in rural areas. Isolation and dark days, working outside and losing animals in extreme freezing temperatures, hazardous road conditions, equipment not working or starting are only a few challenges that winter brings on the farm.

If you’re starting to feel like nothing but a very full and strong pot of coffee will get you out of bed, you aren’t alone. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), between two and five per cent of the population have serious seasonal affective disorder (SAD), up to 15 per cent have milder, diagnosable forms of the disorder and up to 35 per cent of people are affected by the winter blues.

What is the difference between winter blues and SAD?

CMHA refers to the winter blues as “a wave of low emotions that come with these cold, dark days.” You may find yourself feeling more lethargic and down overall. Although you may feel more gloomy than usual, the winter blues typically don’t hinder your ability to enjoy life.

But if your winter blues start spreading to all aspects of your life — from the farm to relationships — you may be facing SAD. SAD is a recurrent type of depression associated with the change in seasons. Symptoms of SAD include sleep disturbances, lack of motivation, and withdrawal from social situations.

While you may not be able to change the weather or amount of daylight during the winter, you can practice good self-care to help you feel better and lessen the severity of the symptoms associated with SAD or the winter blues.

Here are 5 strategies that other farmers have shared on social media (X)  that have helped them beat the winter blues.

  • Getting outside: Being outdoors, breathing in fresh air, and taking in the sun’s rays can be a mood booster.

    • We have to go outside every morning to feed our cows regardless of the temperature. That outdoor activity boosts our spirits and gives us energy.  @PJames2018

    • Going outside and watching the wild birds at my feeder is always a spirit lifter for me. @Philcolynn

    • Outdoor activities like snowshoeing and ice fishing. @RocknRollAgronomy

  • Exercising: Moving the body can help lift the spirits, help you sleep better and feel good physically.

    • Running. Good for the body, good for the mind, good for the soul. @willpenrievans

    • I hit golf balls every day. @schuelkecorn

    • Exercise every day. A walk, weights, running, anything. Even 15 minutes can help. Besides the physical health benefits, mentally it’s a game-changer. @ClavelleJean

  • Setting goals and organizing: Setting goals to track progress can help keep you motivated. Reducing clutter and organizing can help reduce stress.

    • Keep a list of projects/tasks you want to accomplish over the winter and then keep a timeline for doing them to avoid procrastination.

    • I enjoy organizing. I pick a topic or area to organize and then move onto the next. Breaking it down gives me a sense of achievement as I move along. @HopeFloeck

  • Planning a trip or vacation and taking a break

    • Plan/take a vacation to someplace warm and sunny. You need a break from work and the farm to keep motivated. @Theo_farms

    • An unplanned spur of the moment road trip to who knows where. @fl_keys_disease

  • Taking on a new project or hobby

    • I find having a fun project in the winter helps me stay engaged and focused. It may be something in the shop or at home. Try to find something each day that makes you smile. @KowalchukFarms

    • A whole day of completing some creative project – from start to finish. It’s so good to get in that headspace and finish something. @lolacanola67

    • Talk to an old mentor of mine and her advice was to take a class online. So I’m taking a forage class to help with my business. @Zachv43

Other mentions included in the social media thread were practicing gratitude, reading, light therapy, having a daily routine, listening to music, dancing, taking vitamins, and connecting with others. When you are dealing with the winter blues, finding a way to safely spend time with supportive people can help. This may include walks outdoors, talking on the phone, or virtual coffee dates.

Click here to see the full social media thread and responses.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of SAD or if your symptoms get severe, it’s crucial to seek professional mental health services immediately. Check-in with your doctor, or visit the resources at Do More Ag.