Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Jazzing Up the Winter Blues

I’ll admit it – winter is starting to get to me.  February is always my worst month, mood-wise – but judging from the weather, it looks like February is going to drag on into March. The cold weather , accompanied by piles of snow, shows no sign of letting up any time soon. I told a friend this morning that it was like we were stuck in an infinite loop of winter.
The problem is called SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder, a propensity for depression during the long, dark days of winter. Why my mood always plummets in February, when the days are actually starting to get longer, and not in December or January, when the days are short, is a mystery to me. 
Maybe it’s just that the winter has gone on… and on… until, like the movie Groundhog Day, it looks like it will never end.  So today, in my effort to “Keep My Sunny Side Up,” I’m going to look at ways to combat SAD – also known as the winter blues.

First, some fun facts about SAD:

  • Residents of Nordic countries (where most of my ancestors lived) are particularly susceptible to winter depression – nearly 10 percent of Scandinavian residents suffer from SAD.
  • SAD was named and categorized in the 1980s by Dr. Norman Rosenthal at the National Institute of Mental Health. He was trying to find a reason for the decline in mood that occurs in more northern climes during the winter, having observed the issue after moving from South Africa to New York.
  • In Alaska, 25 percent of people suffer either full-blown SAD or a less intense version of the disorder. Since much of Alaska is dark for a LONG time during the winter, this makes sense.

And now, some ways to combat the winter blues:

  • EXERCISE. This is never my favorite thing to do, and the weight I gain every winter makes it even harder. But exercise releases endorphins, feel-good chemicals that can help your brain combat SAD.
  •  LIGHT THERAPY: Some years ago, my parents bought me a little portable light for Christmas. I have used it with great effect every year since. The blast of portable sunlight stimulates my neuroreceptors and tricks my brain into believing it is getting more sun than I really am. It works – as long as you use it.
  • GO OUTSIDE. Fresh air and sunshine help you feel better, even if it’s zero degrees.
  • WATCH YOUR NUTRITION. Winter blues make me want to eat carbohydrates – a LOT of carbohydrates. This makes sense, because carbs raise serotonin levels. But too MANY carbs – or bad carbs like donuts and chocolate bars – contribute to weight gain and mood crashes. Good, balanced nutrition can help your mood.
  • VITAMIN IT UP: Some researchers believe that winter depression is linked to a lack of Vitamin D, which your skin makes when it is exposed to sunshine. Vitamins D and B12 may help improve mood levels.
  • WRITE OR TALK IT OUT: Writing or talking about your feelings can be an effective way to cope with depression. Many people – people who are social by nature – improve through social contact.
  • LISTEN TO MUSIC. Music that makes your heart sing will… make your heart sing.

Some depressive disorders are severe enough that they need medical attention. If you are having symptoms that don’t respond to any self-help, don’t blame yourself - see your doctor.
And now, since the sun is shining, I think I will go outside for a little while. I hear the birds are already starting to sing.

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