COOL WAYS TO BEAT THE WINTER BLUES
by Jacqueline Germain N.D.
I’m looking out the bedroom window on an early December morning. The gloomy gray sky spreads all the way down to the pavement. I expect we will see many of these days in Connecticut this winter. Here are some tips to help you feel cheery all winter long.
Winter onset blues are often referred to as SAD (seasonal affective disorder), a type of depression triggered by the change of season. The American Academy of Family Physicians estimates that 500,000 Americans have a severe form of this condition. And perhaps 20% of the population suffers from some of the symptoms to a lesser degree. It is far more common in the northern states.
A checklist of common symptoms includes:
π overeating and weight gain
π carbohydrate cravings
π feeling spaced out
π sleep disturbance
π avoiding social interaction
There is a lot that you can do to both prevent the blues and to get yourself back to normal if you’re already down in the dumps.
Here is another reason to stay fit. Exercise isn’t only for keeping fit and helping with weight management. Exercise relieves stress. If you exercise in the morning, you will have more energy throughout the day and it helps your brain release those “feel good” chemicals that improve your mood.
2. GET SUN
Vitamin D is good for your mood. It seems that every day we find out that vitamin D has but another health benefit. Although it is hard to get enough vitamin D from winter sun in this region, you can and should make certain that your vitamin D levels are at their optimum in the winter. Perhaps that is one of the reasons many of us like to escape to a warm and sunny place during the winter! Sun exposure, like exercise also makes the brain release those brain chemicals that make us happy. You can also change the light bulbs in your house to “full spectrum” bulbs and there is good evidence that using a light box essentially mimics natural light exposure. Read more about this at www.lightsofamerica.com.
Spend more time outdoors. Bundle up and head into the cold. Take advantage of the light even if it is partly obscured by the gray of winter. Especially get out when the sun is shining. A half hour walk will do you wonders. You don’t have to be a skier to enjoy the winter outdoors either. Snowshoes are a great way to get some significant exercise and you will find beautiful places to explore that you thought were unreachable on foot. How about sledding? Ice-skating? Both can be fun at any age.
3. AVOID SUGAR AND ALCOHOL
Many people turn to alcohol and sugary treats during the holiday season and also when they are feeling down in the dumps. Alcohol is actually a depressant, so rather than improving your mood, it makes it more solemn and you feel tired. Limit your alcohol intake. Mix some festive colored fruit juice like pomegranate or acai with some sparkling water instead.
Sugar is another non-nutritional food choice and we all know that we feel lethargic after indulging in cookies and cakes. Opt for some fresh fruit instead and you will be less likely to head for the couch.
4. KEEP MOTIVATED
Have something on your calendar every week that you can look forward to. Take a walk with a friend, find a music event at a local school or enjoy an art exhibit. You might not be as spontaneous in the winter when it comes to heading out but if you make a plan ahead of time, you are likely to stick to it and you will feel better afterwards. Just remember not to over engage yourself. Feeling obliged to attend too many parties or functions can also exhaust you physically and emotionally and you are more likely to end up eating the wrong kinds of food. Say, “yes” to invitations that you really want to accept and kindly decline the others.
Try to schedule time alone every day, even for a few minutes. I like to tell my patients, “No” is a complete sentence. As important as it is to get out and do things, over extending yourself has no benefit. Read a chapter a day of a new novel or pick small projects to get done around the house.
6. CATCH SOME Zzzzz’s
Most people want more sleep in the winter. Get an adequate amount, 7-8 hours, but do not oversleep. You will feel much more refreshed when waking after enough rest than you will if you hang around dosing off and on for an extra three hours. You can always take a 20-minute power nap later in the day.
7. TAKE YOUR SUPPLEMENTS
A multivitamin, fish oil and vitamin D should be your staples every day. Additional supplements like Elderberry and vitamin C can help keep your immune system strong.
The doctors at CCH can help you design a winter fitness and eating program to help chase away the blues. If your symptoms are significant, there are some effective herbs and supplements we can prescribe as well. Don’t hesitate ask for help if you need it. Make the most out of winter and remember that spring is right around the corner.