Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Winter Blues

I enjoy winter, though, to be fair, we don’t get very much of it here in the desert, and my previous homes have never been exactly encumbered by it either. I’m probably more of what you might call a winter hobbyist, a dabbler in winter, so to speak, and it would be entirely fair to question how well I would do in a colder climate. Playing in the snow might be fun, but that doesn’t mean that being stuck in it for months on end would be all that entertaining. I get that, and wouldn’t want that. Let’s be honest, here. If I were organizing a list of my favorite seasonal activities, a sunny day on a boat would rank higher on the list than a frosty day on the slopes every time. Still variety is good, and I do love to visit those slopes as long as they don’t overstay their welcome.

That, of course, is the root of the problem when it comes to Seasonal Affective Disorder. Often referred to simply as The Winter Blues (SAD can affect people at different times of the year, but the winter is the most common), Seasonal Affective Disorder has a tendency to set in because it doesn’t take long for winter to overstay its welcome in most people’s estimation. As an organism, we need light and warmth to thrive, and light and warmth are not exactly defining factors of winter. The longer we go without light and warmth, the more difficult it is to thrive, and the easier it becomes to believe that we won’t thrive. As with most depression-based disorders, it can quickly become a perpetual loop. Once you start going downhill, you tend to keep going. “An object in motion” is as true for the mind as it is for a physical body.

Mental inertia can be easier to overcome than physical, though, at least depending on the person and the issues. Trying to stop a snowball from rolling downhill might be tricky, at best, but there are a number of tactics you can use to keep yourself from going down, and they’re usually safer than getting in front of an avalanche. Generally speaking, the worst that will happen as a result of trying any of these is that they won’t work. You aren’t likely to be flattened by a torrent of rushing ice.

The first thing to try may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed how much can be accomplished sometimes with simple, obvious steps. Turn on the lights. An absence or shortage of light is one of the leading causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder, so crank up the watts and get out of the gloom. Artificial, indoor lighting is not as good for this as sunlight would be, but it’s better than no light at all.

Whenever possible, go with warm, soft lighting. Harsh fluorescents and things of that sort might be brighter, but they’ve never been known to improve anyone’s mood. You need light that’s going to help you to feel good, not trick you into believing that you are in an office or shopping mall. It should be bright enough to make a difference, though. A 40-watt soft white bulb may be relaxing, but relaxing isn’t always what you need. You need some stimulus too, so turn that dimmer switch up and soak in what beams you can get.

While you’re turning up the lights, don’t forget to turn up the volume. Music is one of the best medicines the human race has ever discovered and, best of all, you can adjust it to the needs of the moment. If you’re experiencing the Winter Blues, try a little musical summer to adjust your personal thermostat. It doesn’t have to be necessarily loud, though we all know that I am a great fan of the shrieking guitar, but it needs to get the blood pumping. Getting the blood flowing is the warmth part of our needed but missing “light and warmth”.

Yes, yes, I know. If you’re in need of warmth, you can just as easily light up the fireplace or crank up the actual thermostat, but that’s missing the point. That kind of warmth is necessary, but that’s what you use to relax. Relaxing is not the goal here. This is a whole body, whole mind exercise, and you really need the opposite of relaxing for that to work. We’re not trying to hibernate. We’re trying to get up and get moving, as much to remind ourselves that we can as for any other reason.

And speaking of moving, move yourself right out the door if at all possible. If you are not actually snowbound, some exercise in the fresh air might be exactly what you need. If you are snowbound, it might still be what you need, though you may need some assistance in that department. Maybe strap on some skis or snowshoes? I’m going to have to trust that people who spend more time in the snow than I do have a better understanding of how to exercise in the snow than I have, but I do know it can be done. There is an entire Olympic phenomenon to demonstrate that fact.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t get the exercise that I should get, though I am working on changing that. Slowly, ever so slowly, I am trying to add activities that will get me up and moving, and I can also tell you that it makes a big difference to the mood. If you do nothing else, go for a walk. Sometimes a change in scenery can be all you need to evoke a change in perspective.

Finally, don’t forget to take care of your dietary needs. Hot chocolate and comfort foods are fine in moderation, but being cooped up in a shortage of sunlight almost guarantees that you are not getting the vitamins that you need to be healthy. If you don’t make it a point to replenish these vitamins, you’re going to run into trouble, or possible make trouble you’re already experiencing even worse.

Drink plenty of liquids, and make sure that most of them are not of the caffeine or alcohol variety. Load up on juicy fruits and vegetables, and avoid or cut back on the heavy stuff like carbs and starches. Once again, you’re not a bear. You’re not settling in for hibernation. You’re trying to keep your body active because that can be a great way to keep your mind active. Stay up to keep from getting dragged down.

These are just a few of the things you can do to beat the Winter Blues. They’re fairly easy, and don’t require much in the way of extra supplies or planning, but they can make a world of difference to how you’re feeling about the day. If you can grab a few friends to join you in these activities, even better. You can help each other out and, as I always say, helping others is often the best way to help yourself.

Just remember, spring is coming. Even the worst winter can’t last forever. If you take the necessary steps, you can beat the Winter Blues, and you might even have fun in the process. It doesn’t hurt to try.

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