Rx for Winter Weather

Brrrr … cold to the bones and tired of it?

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Literally, many of us may be TIRED of the cold winter weather over the last few (too many) weeks. This may have to do with less exercise in the winter months, which can make us feel more lethargic, as well as the double whammy of less sunlight, which spurs increased production of the sleep chemical melatonin, and less vitamin D. All of this can combine to create an overall “blah” feeling – a.k.a. the “Winter Blues.” There’s the winter blues, and then there’s Seasonal Affective Disorder, a more serious condition similar to depression. So how can you tell which is which?

While the Winter Blues is a mood that can wash over us all during the confined winter months, it lasts hours, not days or weeks. Seasonal Affective Disorder is most often a significant drop in mood that starts in late fall and lasts through till spring (though for some people it can be the opposite and be present in the summer months instead), and may include some anxiety symptoms in addition to sadness. Signs of this condition include:

· a deeper level of sadness (even depressed) most of the day for more days than you feel “good”,
· feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness,
· low energy and fatigue,
· changes in sleep habits (too little or too much),
· loss of interest in typically enjoyed activities,
· feeling sluggish or agitated,
· difficulty concentrating,
· changes in appetite (not as hungry or eating too much).

While it is normal to have days where you feel down or less energized, if this lasts for several days and it is hard to get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, it may be necessary to check in with your doctor. This is especially important if sleep or appetite has changed, or if there are feelings of hopelessness, or thoughts of suicide. Often the treatment for SAD may include considering medication but also the use of specialty light bulbs or a “light box” that mimics the effects of the sun and produces similar chemical changes to lift mood.

If your “blah” feeling comes and goes and is more of a nuisance than a major concern, here are some suggestions for beating the winter blues:

· Maintain a regular exercise routine, even if this means kitchen dance parties!
· Try to maintain a healthy diet that includes fresh fruit as a source of sweets rather than dense baked goods and carbs (that interfere with chemicals related to mood and sleep).
· Purposely schedule social outings to keep you from isolating, and maintain fun social connections (not just school or work) that help to lift mood chemicals.
· Try not to increase reliance on screen time to “feel better”, as this can accidentally isolate you and exposure to light interferes with chemicals that help with sleep and mood.
· Plan weekly family or friend “game nights”, “movie nights” or karaoke parties for a break from the blah. If snow makes travel tougher, do this over Skype! (permission granted for necessary screen time J)
· Reorganize or look through pictures to connect to fun and energized memories.
· Play music much more often.
· Binge watch classic ’80’s and ’90’s sitcoms (‘Seinfeld’ reruns anyone?)
· Sit by a sunny window – if you can find one!

DSC_9010 Jessica Stewart is Moses Brown’s school psychologist.

 

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