Those Mid Winter Blues
Mid-winter depression or Seasonal Affect Disorder can strike many people, especially those in colder climates. However, there are many ways, both natural and pharmaceutical, to combat the winter blahs.
For those of you living in the northern climates, you might experience a bit of the blues this time of the year. For those of you in the sunnier states, you might have a bit of the blues as well. I find this stretch of the calendar the most frustrating - both emotionally and physically draining. I think that it is a combination of things: The holiday excitement is over, the long hours have settled in, there is a long stretch until a vacation, and the days are shorter (although we have passed the winter solstice, and the days are getting longer!).
During this period many people notice that they are struggling a bit more to do things. This is a form of depression, mild as it may be for most of us, it does affect our emotional and physical outlook. Personally, I have noticed many changes in how I feel and what I want. I want to spend more money and eat more carbohydrates, settle in and be a bit less social as well as do more introspection. This is common for many people during this time of the year. I have been noticing this trend in myself for the last 10 years. In fact, I have begun to dread this time of the year. There is a diagnosis for what I have: Seasonal Affect Disorder or sad. It just means that I have some mild depression for a couple of months, and when spring comes again and the days get longer, I'll feel better. What's funny is that since I've figured out what is going on with me, my family has been looking at themselves too, and it seems my parents -- especially my father -- have the same symptoms too. He likes to spend money - I like to eat with spending money secondary.
Seasonal Affect Disorder is a form of depression that occurs when the shorter days leads to less sunlight and affects the way the brain takes in the chemicals, which in turn affects the way we feel. It can be very mild or more severe depending on the person, and usually occurs in people in northern climates. While I haven't done any major research, I would guess that people in Canada and Alaska have a higher incidence of sad. People who live in the northern parts of the United States and Europe also would have a greater incidence than those in sunnier climates.
Now that I've figured some of this out and have done some research, there are steps that I have taken to help out during this time of the year. The awareness of my disorder has lead to the purchase of a full spectrum light. This special light is supposed to trick your eyes into thinking that you are out in the sunlight. This helps with the chemicals in the brain and helps you deal with feelings of sadness. These lights can be expensive, but there is often a discount if you get a physician to purchase it for you. Many will do this. My sister found one on the Internet and it works great. From what I understand you don't have to look straight into it, just have it on for at least a 30 minutes a day. Some people use them in the morning and others at night. The light came with a questionnaire to help you figure out when the light is needed. My light is great for reading and doing fine needlework as well. If it is a sunny day, I make sure that I take a short 10-minute walk out in the sun. I have found that this is even better than my full spectrum light.
Besides the light, I try very hard to eat properly. During this time, I crave carbohydrates, which is supposed to help with the serotonin uptake in the brain. I find that this leads to weight gain (not good when dealing with depression) and doesn't seem to make a dent in the blues. By focusing on eating a well-balanced diet, the weight gain doesn't happen and I keep a higher level of energy. It isn't always easy, and I can't say that I'm perfect at it, but it will help to make a difference. Comfort foods are always a temptation.
I have started setting small goals as well. I like to travel, so for the months of January, February, March and April, I plan short trips; just little ones to areas that I haven't been and have always wanted to check out. It gives me something to look forward to, and I also feel that I am accomplishing something that I have always wanted to do. It is taking back a bit of control that I feel I lose this time of the year.
Trying to keep social and not turning down invitations is also helpful. This way I don't feel isolated, which leads to greater depression. Being with people, especially good friends keeps your mood light.
Exercise is also very important. The endorphins released during exercise can help with mild to moderate depression, give a feeling of control and accomplishment and just overall well being. I know that when you feel blue the last thing that you want to do is get out and exercise, but doing so can make a world of difference. Especially when weight gain and lack of energy are huge byproducts of depression. Regular exercise is essential during this time of the year for me. So no matter what I do or how long the hours I work, I take time to exercise.
Small treats are also great. It helps my desire to spend money -- and I do recommend small treats in terms of price, not physical size. The regular purchase of flowers -- just daisies or forced bulbs -- reminds me that spring and longer days are on the way and brings joy to my life. The little extra expense is well worth the beauty and brightness that they bring.
It is important to know that many people deal with the mid-winter blues and everyone has different ways of handling it. Some of the ways that I do are non-pharmaceutical, and they work for me. Others may need to try different options. Herbs such as St. John's Wort work for some, Sam-E for others. There are more on the market as well. I'm not well-versed with these natural remedies but a good health food or herb shop should be able to help. Others may want to talk to their physicians and try a prescription drug, such as Prozac or Zoloft. Again, I don't know much about these, but if the depression is severe enough, a trip to the doctor may be in order. The big issue is not to be afraid to ask for help. When dealing with either natural or prescription drugs it is important to remember that it can take two to four weeks before they make an impact. So you may want to plan in advance.
All in all, the mid-winter blues may be just that or it may be something like SAD. By doing a bit of research, writing in a journal and looking at what your signs and symptoms are, you can attack the problem head-on and enjoy the winter months as much as those in the sunnier climates.