11/14/2016 04:09 EST | Updated 11/14/2016 04:09 EST

5 Ways To Prepare Now To Avoid SAD This Winter

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sad woman in depression and despair crying on black dark background

I want to address an issue that more than half a million people in Canada struggle with every year, that isn't often talked about until it's too late.

We as Canadians are pretty... SAD.

I am not talking about how people may be feeling after the election, or the letdown of not achieving a goal that you've been chasing, I am talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD.

Research in Ontario suggests that between 2-3 per cent of the general population may have SAD. Another 15 per cent have a less severe experience described as the "winter blues."

Very often, I see articles in February on how to prevent SAD, but for many of us, that is simply too late! By then our Vitamin D stores are depleted, and we are already suffering.

It's critical that we start thinking about the effects of our long and dark winters on us now, so that we can take the steps needed to ward off the very real mental health challenges that can arise as part and parcel of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Symptoms of SAD include the following:  

• increased carbohydrate cravings

• weight gain

• fatigue

• feeling overwhelmed and in extreme cases -- depressed

I want to share some of the strategies that I have used for myself and with clients through the years on how to prepare now for the upcoming winter months.

Begin taking 3,000 IU of vitamin D now and continue until May. Vitamin D is especially helpful for the symptoms of depression (study on it here.) Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in very few foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. It is also produced endogenously when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis. We simply cannot get enough of it naturally during the winter, so we must supplement! Supplementing with high levels has been shown to reduce the symptoms of depression.

Brighten up your home. Open the blinds, curtains and allow natural light to come in as light will naturally boost your mood. Sunlight and darkness trigger the release of a hormone in your brain called serotonin, which is associated with boosting mood and helping you to feel calm and focused. Without enough sunlight exposure, serotonin levels can dip, putting you at a higher risk of SAD.

Exercise. Yes, you may not feel like it, but exercise will release those feel good endorphins. I do hot yoga five times per week during the winter -- it has the double effect of also keeping me warm! Even if that's outside of your budget, it's amazing what you can do with a floor mat, a chair, a few free weights, and some tension bands.

Add in one extra serving of complex carbohydrates. Yes, you read correctly. Complex carbohydrates help the body produce serotonin. That doesn't mean go and have a cupcake, but oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, potatoes, beans, peas and lentils are all great choices!

Figure out what you are craving and address those nutritional issues. You can read here about food cravings and what your body is telling you. I crave peanut butter -- what do you crave? Find out what it means here

For further information about seasonal affective disorder, contact a community organization like the Canadian Mental Health Association to find out about support and resources in your community.

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