In my first blog post, I talked about how to tell if you or someone you know has S.A.D. (Seasonal Affect Disorder) aka “Winter Blues.” In this, the second in that series, I talk more in depth about how to get over the winter blues.
No one wants to be in a funk for a long period of time so what can be done about it?
As with most things in life, when we are looking to make major changes in our lifestyle, especially with our mental health and well being, (in this case overcoming S.A.D.), self-help and mental health experts around the globe suggest that you start to identify things that you enjoy to do as a baseline point of reference. Here are a few self-reflective questions you might want to ask yourself:
- What do I like? (Yes this is a broad question but needed for the next part of the plan)
- What things do I like to do locally? If there is a particular activity that you like to do that is easy to get to and in your neighborhood, the better your chance of staying on task.
- What things do I like to do and can afford to do (financially and time wise) at least 1-2 times a week? This should be a realistic goal not something that would require a herculean effort or require you to study at Hogwarts to figure out how to do (unless you have an inside connection :-)).
When people are happy or in a state of bliss or even enjoyment, there are chemicals that are released in the brain (endorphins) that can trigger a sense of euphoria, well-being and happiness. Think about how you feel when you have an orgasm (for those lucky enough, multiple orgasms).
For the foodies out there, how do you feel when you get a hold of that last piece of sweet potato pie you put in the freezer after Thanksgiving waiting for you to thaw out (If my father happens to read this blog post this is a shameless plea to hook a brother up with a pie)?
Here are a few things that you can do to get those chemicals moving around your brain (legal chemicals that won’t give you the munchies or give you a hang over the next day):
- Exercise. Pretty self-explanatory. It’ll help get you in shape, in a good mood and make your body just right for “cuffing season.” This can range from running, going to the gym, brisk walking, skiing, and last but not least the greatest winter sport known to humankind, snowboarding (snowboarding is not for the weak or lighthearted). For those of you beginning a new exercise program, especially those with pre-existing medical conditions, or those that have not engaged in regular exercise in quite some time, I recommend getting cleared by a physician first to avoid any unnecessary injuries or other complications.
- Get outside whenever you can, especially when you have a sunny day. Getting at least 1-2 hours of sunlight is awesome but not always possible. If you can only get 20-30 minutes outside during your lunch break then bundle up and go get some sun.
- Bright lights – Just like a sunny day can brighten your mood, bright lights in and around your living space can be of help. I’m all for “earth day, everyday” but if you’re trying to penny pinch and get the cheap low wattage bulbs that leave your apartment gloomy looking, then time to go to the store. Spend the money on a few (2500 lux light bulbs, provided your lamps can tolerate them (we don’t want any electrical fires). However, most standard light bulbs don’t have the intense wattage needed to really make a difference for people severely affected by S.A.D. Most standard bulbs only give off 250-500 lux. Not to worry, there are also specific lamps that can be purchased called “day lamps”, which can really help improve your general disposition. These light bulbs can give off at least 2500 lux and are the recommended amount used to regularly treat those suffering S.A.D. According to NAMI (National Association of Mental Illness). For an even greater effect you can purchase a light therapy box, which uses up to 10,000 lux. These boxes can run about $200 or more.
- Get together regularly with friends to have a good time or even to vent/complain about the days woes. Maintaining camaraderie when the weather sucks can be a huge help. People are generally social beings so take advantage. Do a weekly potluck and rotate it around you and your peeps houses and apartments so that the burden for clean up is minimized.
- Plan to go on vacation during the winter for a few days to a week or more if you are able. Vacation escapes are perfect to get away, reflect and recharge. Going to a new environment can often give us a new and needed perspective on life.
- Be mindful of alcohol intake. Drinking with friends is a favorite pastime that transcends cultures and socioeconomic status.
Socializing during winter = good mood.
However, keep in mind that alcohol is a depressant.For those that are already experiencing symptoms of depression you might want to opt for the virgin drink. Less buzz, but better for you in the long run.
These are just a few suggestions for you to get on your way to overcoming S.A.D. As always, if you are a danger to yourself (feeling like you want to hurt yourself), please call 911 or contact a medical professional for further help.
In the meantime stay tuned for the next post, “Exercising in the Winter.”
Dr. Rob Gore is an emergency medicine physician in Brooklyn, NY. He is also the founder and executive director of the KAVI (Kings Against Violence Initiative) Youth violence intervention, prevention, and empowerment program. Most recently, he is co-founder of the Global Empowerment Project, a docu-series focusing on travel and philanthropy through community projects.
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