In many ways, the majority of fall and early winter are seasons of anticipation. October brings the start of hockey and basketball, and the festivities associated with Thanksgiving. Just a month or so later, the joys of the holiday season are in full swing.

But after opening the last present or drinking the final sip of eggnog, there can be a lull. And when this is combined with the gloominess of winter, it can take a toll on your mental and physical health. In fact, the Canadian Mental Health Association reports that approximately 3% of Canadians experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in their lifetime, which prevents them from performing at their very best.

Some of the classic symptoms of SAD include:

  • General lack of interest in activities or things you typically enjoy
  • Weight gain
  • Sense of hopelessness
  • Decreased libido
  • Changes in appetite
  • Cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Listlessness
  • Difficulty focusing on common tasks
  • Feeling tired more often than usual
  • Trouble falling and staying asleep

You should always seek out a professional in order to be accurately diagnosed, but if any of these symptoms sound familiar, SAD may be the problem.

The good news is there are things you can do to combat the winter blues. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Talk it out
One of the biggest problems with SAD—or any form of depression, for that matter—is those who experience it often bottle up their emotions in order to avoid them. This is one of the worst things you can do because those feelings are allowed to fester and may make things worse. Instead, talk to someone you know and trust about what you're feeling. You may be surprised by the insight others can provide, and together, you may be able to work out what's troubling you.

You may also want to seek out professional counselling for the winter blues. Homewood Health Centre is a national leader in mental health and has been helping patients achieve wellness for over 130 years, including those battling SAD. They offer a number of services, including an Employee Family Assistant Program, which is available through many group benefits plans. Be sure to check if mental health services are covered under your health insurance plan.

2. Get physical
Most of us know how important exercise is for our physical health. It helps to burn excess calories, strengthen muscles and increase blood flow through heart-pumping activities like jogging, swimming or cycling. But it also does wonders for your mental well-being. During those dark and chilly winter mornings, the last thing you may want to do is drag yourself out of bed and jump on the stationary bike, but do your best to fight these emotions and power through it. Exercise produces endorphins, which are natural "feel good" chemicals the brain produces. They can help you feel better about life in general and give you an energy boost.

3. Let light in
In a similar vein, light—be it from natural sunshine, light bulbs or an authentic lightbox—is another mood lifter. Light therapy is something many wellness experts highly recommend for their patients because they've seen the positive impact its had on those they treat. Indeed, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, between 60% and 80% of those who have turned to light therapy for treatment came away feeling better than when they started out.

4. Try to eat smarter
The old saying is true: You are what you eat. Empty calorie foods like pastries, white rice and sweetened beverages like pop and energy drinks raise blood sugar levels considerably and can pack on the pounds over time. It's fine to have a treat every once in a while, but try not to make it a habit. Replace junk food with wholesome snacks like kale chips, lean beef jerky and fresh fruit like oranges, apples and melons. reported those who eat wholesome foods more regularly tend to experience fewer encounters with depressive symptoms.

You may not be able to avoid Old Man Winter, but through perseverance and commitment, you can have the last laugh.