Avoiding the winter blues

Terry RogersHeadlines, Health, Milford Headline Story

Hot chocolate is one of way to fight the winter blues (Photo courtesy of Kitera Dent, Unsplash Media)

Although the days have started getting longer, the month of January is when many people complain of the “winter blues.” Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), most commonly known as the winter blues, can lead to symptoms that include persistent low mood, irritability, lethargy and even weight gain as the body craves carbohydrates. Dark mornings and evenings as well as skies that tend to be grayer than in warmer months can lead to feelings of depression or sadness. However, there are steps that can be taken to help avoid those winter doldrums.

The fact is that “winter blues” is not an “official” medical condition as there are those who suffer from SAD in the summer as well. It is believed, however, that between four and nine percent of Americans are impacted by SAD in the winter.

“Feeling blue for a period of time is not, per se, normal,” Jacqueline Gollan, Ph.D., a professor in psychiatry said in an interview with Everyday Health. “When people feel blue, it’s a signal something in their life needs attention.”

One suggestion for dealing with increased feelings of depression in the winter is to exercise vigorously for 20 minutes at least four times each week. This could be walking, joining a gym, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or even riding a bicycle to work when the weather permits. Another tip is to be sure you stick to a sleep schedule.

“It is tempting to sleep in when the weather is cold and the mornings are dark, but it is important to establish a routine time to wake up each morning and go to bed at night,” Dr. Gollans said. “The average adult needs at least seven hours sleep each night, so aim for at least that. If you don’t have a set sleeping pattern now, keep in mind it could take three or four weeks to get into one.”

Although it may sound like a cliché, laughter really is the best medicine when it comes to managing the winter blues. Watch a funny movie, standup comedian or invite some friends over to share some laughs with you. Surprisingly, a good quality hot cocoa can also elevate your mood. Use a non-dutched natural cocoa powder and combine it with warm, fortified milk. The cocoa also has heart-healthy and mood-boosting flavonoids while the milk can increase serotonin levels.

Adding more fish to your diet can also help boost moods along with whole grains, fruits and vegetables. At least one egg each week, including the yolk, is a good source of choline that also promotes metabolism and energy.

“Another reason people are often dealing with lower moods in January is that the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is over,” Dr. Gollan said. “That doesn’t mean you need to end all celebrations, though. Throw a dinner party, family game night or even a cheese tasting gathering that will likely put you and your friends in much better spirits.”

Light therapy is another way to elevate moods in the winter. If you leave for work when it is dark and return home in the dark, you may simply be missing sunshine. Consider taking a walk on your lunch hour as a way to get more sunlight into your life. If this is not possible, a full-spectrum light box can regulate your circadian rhythms as a natural way to release energy hormones. It is important to discuss your seasonal depression with your doctor, before such intensive therapy, however.

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