Beating the winter blues

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Hello, February! I have to be honest -- this is my least favorite month of the year, and not just because it contains Valentine's Day or is the shortest month of the twelve. Do you suffer from the winter blues (or Seasonal Affective Disorder, which can also occur in the summer) like I do? For me, it comes and goes, depending on how dreary the winter, but I've suffered from it practically every February-April or May since I was 18. SAD is a "young person's disease" and is said to ebb in the 40s and 50s, and affects more women than men.

It's not as bad for me now that I don't live in Massachusetts anymore, where winter seemed to drag on and on between late October and early May. In Massachusetts, I would start feeling that time was slowing down and that I was down in the dumps beginning in February, but here in New York City, I feel that SAD doesn't really hit me until March. Ever since I discovered the patterns of my blues, I have been trying to make an active effort to stay positive during the worst months of the winter and minimize the symptoms.

Scientists say that sunlight, for obvious reasons, works wonders on SAD symptoms. They recommend that one sets a timer on their bedside lamp so it turns on a half hour before one's alarm goes off, to mimic daylight. Similarly, sunlamps and other types of lamps that mimic natural sunlight are recommended for those who don't get enough sun (so many of us who live in big cities and work in office buildings with little access to windows!).

What works for you?

For me, I've slowly figured out that exercise helps a great, great deal. In the past, I've brushed this off because I've been lazy, but now that I exercise regularly, I can really see the difference in my mood.

Other things that help me are more superficial -- sprucing up my surroundings, for example. I like redecorating, even if only with a happy and bright-colored garland or some new homemade art. Luckily, Valentine's Day decorations afford us plenty of cheerfully-colored décor options. Fresh flowers are another option.

And, my cheap and easy year-round go-to: painting my nails. When I'm in need of a mood-lifter, I turn to my pinks, corals, reds and fuchsias.

Music always, always helps. In the early winter, I like music that incorporates warm, cozy-sounding wood instruments, so I tend to listen to acoustic, folk or even country music with positive messages.

I haven't tried this one yet, but I'd imagine that aromatherapy would help as well. A few drops of pure essential oils like peppermint, orange or lemon in a clay pot or oil burner are said to be energizing, and lavender or chamomile calming if you're having trouble sleeping. (Sleeping more during these months is also recommended, and probably the way our ancestors dealt with it.)

Working on a project you're really excited about helps. Having something to look forward to -- whatever the season -- is a great way to "pass the time" or get through the hard times. Just make sure it's not something that will be so challenging that you'll find yourself easily frustrated or tempted to give up. Make it fun.

Lastly, if it's financially possible, travel is a great way to get away and regain some perspective and maybe even to catch some rays. Even if it's to another cold, wintry place! I went on a skiing trip to Vermont a few Januarys back and returned with a big smile in my heart to last me the rest of winter.

P.S. A little bit of chocolate never hurt anyone.

Read more about Seasonal Affective Disorder/Winter Blues:

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