Go Away Winter Blues ! Go Away Winter Blues !

The holiday season is often thought of as a time of joy, but for some of us winter brings low spirits as the days get shorter. Many experience changes in moods and behavior, feelings of exhaustion, and most of all depression from the lack of sunlight. As daylight starts to diminish at early hours, millions of people suffer from a mild case of winter depression called the winter blues. The winter blues is a bummed-out feeling spawned from unrealistic expectations, unpleasant holiday memories, the inability to be with family, or the confinement of cold weather. This wintertime depression can last for few days or through the whole winter season. In some instances, people can't function normally without seeking medical and psychological help to cope with extreme winter depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If you think you experience the winter blues, here are few suggestions to help you through that wintertime misery.

Winter brings about colors associated with sadness, blue and gray making your home feel cold, empty, and depressing. To uplift your spirits think about decorating your home in colors reflecting the sun; the warm colors of red, orange, and yellow. These colors evoke the images of fire and heat, enhancing feelings of warmth and happiness. The colors of red overcome depression, encourages activity and escalates body metabolism. Oranges brings joy and heals grief. The yellows stimulates your mind, clears your head from headaches, and reduces depression. There is no need to paint your home. Just add decorative accessories with these colors like candles, tablecloths, pillows, sofa covers, etc? Add other accessories to bring happiness into your home by using curtains, instead of blinds to filter in light and brighten up a room. Place flowers and plants around your home to bring in the fresh smells of spring and summer. By decorating your home, you change the mood of depression towards a positive serenity. Check out decorating for the winter articles (Chinese Red) , (The Uses of Yellow)

Another way to beat the wintertime blues is to get plenty of exercise to improve your mood and reduce stress. Exercising rids feelings of depression by increasing serotonin levels. Studies have shown that one-hour of exercise outside had the same benefits as 2.5 hours of light treatment indoors. Briskly walking from place to place, taking a run, skiing, sledding and having a snowball fight have all proven to help sufferers of the blues feel better. It is a good idea to take a weekend vacation to a ski resort to get plenty of sunshine and exercise. Even if it is dark outside, snowing, or raining the best thing to do is to keep moving indoors. Do chores or exercise with home equipment such as a treadmill or stationary bike. The more you exercise to restore your body's balance the less likely you will suffer from the blue's stresses.

"You are what you eat" holds true when depression creates an urge to indulge in high-sugar foods that gives temporary liveliness, but eventually decreases energy. In order to maintain that energy people tend to overeat and gain weight. The best thing to do is to eat healthy. Eat foods that are naturally carbohydrated, like pasta, rice, and fruits. Try whole grain breads and crackers, or starchy vegetables like corn or potatoes. Eat foods that are high in Vitamin D, which increases serotonin levels and supplements rich with B-complex vitamins, taken daily can help improve your energy level and reduce anxiety to eat. This may be difficult as winter is the time for the holidays and there is an abundance of food, but trying to maintain a balanced meal is the best thing to do away with depression. (Healthier Holiday Recipes)

Depression and lack of energy caused by winter blues can lower your immune system, exposing you to colds or flu's. Before taking an over the counter medicine to help you deal with the blues, consider taking the holistic approach of herbal remedies and aromatherapy to prevent your body's immune system from declining. There are herbal remedies that help you with depression such as St. John's Wort or Chamomile flower, that encourage you to get a good night sleep and prevents you from waking up moody. Aromatherapy are essential oils that can be used as bath salts, bath oils, candles, or applied oils to the body for cleansing, calming, and balancing thoughts and emotions. The smell of lavender is good for depression and releases serotonin to produce a calming influence in the body. These holistic methods can uplift your frame of mind and encourage a positive behavior that counteracts the winter blues. (Staying Healthy for the Winter with Herbal Remedies)

Studies have found those suffering from the winter blues experience relief from light therapy. Light plays an important role in our health and the amount of time exposed to it affects our performance. As the sun begins to rise in the morning the light that makes its way through our eyelids is recognized by the pineal in our brain. This gland secretes a chemical called serotonin and reduces the production of a chemical called melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that our body produces to help us sleep, while serotonin regulates our mood and energy. Serotonin and melatonin work together in managing important aspects of our physiology. Immunity, pain, digestion, sleep/wake cycle, body temperature, blood pressure, blood clotting, and daily body rhythms are all affected by serotonin and melatonin. The shortage of light in the winter is what affects our hormonal balance causing the wintertime blues. That is why it is important to expose ourselves to a good amount of bright light.

The use of light boxes is one way to receive a similar effect to the sun's natural light. When emitting high intensities of light of 2,500 to 10,000 lux (the measurement of illumination) light boxes improves a person's mood and behavior. Full spectrum light is not necessary since intensity is the key factor, but a balanced-spectrum light minus the UV-B emissions is considered ideal and more comfortable to the eyes. The light box is placed on a table in front of the user at a distance that is recommended, at a desired intensity and sits for about 15 minutes to two hours. Eventually the person should feel happier and better about their days as they continue the use of a light box.

A winter blue's symptom is the difficulty of waking up in the morning. This happens because the mind tells the body not to wake up when is still dark out. When a person does wake-up they feel tired and are melancholy. Those who have trouble waking up use another form of light therapy: a dawn simulator. A dawn simulator is a computerized device attached to a bedside lamp and in about 45 minutes before you choose to awake the light gradually illuminates your room with your personal sunshine. Dawn simulation actually tricks your brain into thinking it is light outside and it is time to wake up. The pineal gland in your brain registers this light and begins secreting serotonin. Therefore, you wake up feeling rested and full of energy.

If you know that you suffer from a mild case of depression because of the winter, you can start preparing in the summer. Enjoy the long hours of sunlight, meditate outdoor, and absorb all the suns energy into the body at least everyday to increase storage of serotonin. Getting ready in the summer will keep you doing the same routines throughout the winter keeping the blues away. Some people take medication to cope with the winter blues, others just move closer to the equator so they can enjoy the longer sunny days. But for most of us, winter is hard to escape from and the best thing to do is to take care of ourselves mentally and physically. Keep moving, eat healthy and uplift your spirits, because spring and summer eventually come back.

Sources:
Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder, What it is and how to cure it. (1993). Norman Rosenthal. New York: Guilford Press.
The National Mental Health Institute http://www.nimh.nih.gov

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