Rarely, if ever, do I republish an article in its entirety but I felt if all I did was include a link, that readers would gloss over it without giving it much attention. So to this end, I strongly encourage you to go to the actual link to read this, but for those who are really lazy, or perhaps for those who may be suffering from what this article addresses, I’ve included it below.
!2 Winter Depression Busters is especially relevant this season with so many people now out of work, or who feel like they are holding onto their current employment by a thin string. Daily, I receive the dreaded e-mail from a colleague entitled “It is with bittersweet emotions that I am leaving [insert current employer's name here].” That is code for, I just got fired.
Add to this, the typical seasonal challenges that go along with living in cold, dark and wintry climates and it’s a recipe for disaster. It’s also an opportunity for all of us to reach out to those who we know that might be going through a challenging time, and to throw them some semblance of a lifeline.
Read through this very thoughtful article and do what’s necessary to take care of yourself. At the same time, think about a friend or family member who may also be feeling a little down this season and reach out. Send them this article, take them out to a movie or just call them up and ask them, “How can I help?”
Weâ€™ve officially entered the hard months, the â€œdark agesâ€ as the midshipmen at the Naval Academy say: the time of the year when the sun disappears and the pale complexions of your friends remind you that you had better take your vitamins or else youâ€™ll have a cold to go with your pasty look.
I dread winter each year because many of my depression busters require sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s. What does a girl who kayaks and bikes for sanity do in the winter? Lots of things. Here are a few of them:
1. Watch the sugar.
I think our body gets the cue just before Thanksgiving that it will be hibernating for a few months, so it needs to ingest everything edible in sight. And Iâ€™m convinced the snow somehow communicates to the human brain the need to consume every kind of chocolate available in the house.
Depressives and addicts need to be especially careful with sweets because the addiction to sugar and white-flour products is very real and physiological, affecting the same biochemical systems in your body as other drugs like heroin. According to Kathleen DesMaisons, author of â€œPotatoes Not Prozacâ€: Your relationship to sweet things is operating on a cellular level. It is more powerful than you have realizedâ€¦.What you eat can have a huge effect on how you feel.â€
2. Stock up on Omega-3â€™s.
During the winter Iâ€™m religious about stocking in my medicine cabinet a Noahâ€™s Ark supply of Omega-3 capsules because leading physicians at Harvard Medical School confirmed the positive effects of this natural, anti-inflammatory molecule on emotional health. I treat my brain like royaltyâ€“hoping that it will be kind to me in returnâ€“so I fork over about $30 a month for the Mac Daddy of the Omega-3s, capsules that contain 70 percent EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid). One 500mg softgel capsule meets the doctor-formulated 7:1 EPA to DHA ratio, needed to elevate and stabilize mood.
3. Give back.
Gandhi once wrote that â€œthe best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.â€ Positive psychologists like University of Pennsylvaniaâ€™s Martin Seligman and Dan Baker, Ph.D., director of the Life Enhancement Program at Canyon Ranch, believe that a sense of purposeâ€“committing oneself to a noble missionâ€“and acts of altruism are strong antidotes to depression.
4. Join the gym.
Donâ€™t let the cold weather be an excuse not to sweat. We have centers today called â€œgymsâ€ where people exercise inside! Granted, itâ€™s not the sameâ€“watching the news or listening to the soundtrack from â€œRockyâ€ as you run in place as opposed to jogging along wooded paths with a view of the bay. But you accomplish the goal: a heart rate over 140 beats a minute.
5. Use a light lamp.
Bright-light therapyâ€“involving sitting in front of a fluorescent light box that delivers an intensity of 10,000 luxâ€“can be as effect as antidepressant medication for mild and moderate depression and can yield substantial relief for Seasonal Affective Disorder.
I usually turn on my mammoth HappyLite in November, just after my least favorite day of the year: when Daylight Saving Time ends and we â€œfall backâ€ an hour, which means that I have about an hour of sunlight to enjoy after I pick up the kids from school.
6. Wear bright colors.
I have no research supporting this theory, but Iâ€™m quite convinced there is a link between feeling optimistic and sporting bright colors. Itâ€™s in line with â€œfaking it â€™til you make it,â€ desperate attempts to trick your brain into thinking that itâ€™s sunny and beautiful outsideâ€“time to celebrate Spring!â€“even though itâ€™s a blizzard with sleet causing some major traffic jams.
Personally, I tend to wear black everyday in the winter. Itâ€™s supposed to make you look thinner. But the result is that I appear as if and feel like Iâ€™m going to a funeral every afternoon between the months of November and March. This isnâ€™t good. Not for a person hardwired to stress and worry and get depressed when itâ€™s cold. So I make a conscious effort to wear bright green, purple, blue, and pink, and sometimesâ€“if Iâ€™m in a rushâ€“all of them together!
7. Force yourself outside.
I realize that the last thing you want to do when itâ€™s 20 degrees outside and the roads are slushy is to head outside for a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood. Itâ€™s much more fun to cuddle up with a good novel or make chocolate chip cookies and enjoy them with a hot cup of joe.
On many winter daysâ€“especially in late January and early February when my brain is done with the darknessâ€“I have to literally force myself outside, however brief. Because even on cloudy and overcast days, your mood can benefit from exposure to sunlight. Midday light, especially, provides Vitamin D to help boost your limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. And there is something so healing about connecting with nature, even if itâ€™s covered in snow.
8. Hang out with friends.
This seems like an obvious depression buster. Of course you get together with your buddies when your mood starts to go south. But thatâ€™s exactly when many of us tend to isolate. I believe that it takes a village to keep a person sane and happy. Thatâ€™s why we need so many support groups today. People need to be validated and encouraged and inspired by persons on the same journey. And with all the technology today, folks donâ€™t even have to throw on their slippers to get to a support group. Online communities provide a village of friendship right at your computer.
9. Head south.
Granted, this solution isnâ€™t free, especially if you live in Maine. But you need not travel like the Kennedys to transplant your body and mind to a sunny spot for a few days. I try to schedule our yearly vacation the last week of January or the first week of February so that it breaks up the winter and so that I have something to look forward to in those depressing weeks following the holidays.
10. Take up a project.
Thereâ€™s no time like winter to start a home project, like decluttering the house or purging all the old clothes in your kidsâ€™ closets. When a friend of mine was going through a tough time, she painted her entire houseâ€“every room downstairs with two different colors. And it looked professional! Not only did it help distract her from her problems, but it provided her with a sense of accomplishment that she desperately needed those months, something to feel good about as she saw other things crumble around her. Projects like organizing bookshelves, shredding old tax returns, and cleaning out the garage are perfect activities for the dreary months of the year.
11. Challenge yourself.
My mood can often be lifted by meeting a new challengeâ€“an activity that is formidable enough to keep my attention, but easy enough to do when my brain is muddied. Learning how to record and edit video blogs, for this girl who hates technology, turned out to be great fun. Friends of mine get the same boost by joining Jenny Craig and losing the 25 pounds of baby fat, or exploring a new hobbyâ€“like scrapbooking. I try to stretch myself in a small way every winterâ€“whether it be taking a writing class, researching the genetics of mood disorders, or trying to build myself a website. It keeps my brain from freezing, like the rest of my body.
12. Light a candle.
If I counted up all the minutes Iâ€™ve spent staring into a flame, I wonder how many years of my life that would be. Certainly more than the hours Iâ€™ve spent brushing my teeth or combing my hair. It would probably even surpass the combination of bath and shower time. But I just feel better if I stick my face in a hot glowing body of flame.
Therese J. Borchard writes the daily Beliefnet.com blog Beyond Blue (voted by Psych Central as one of the Top 10 Depression Blogs) and moderates Group Beyond Blue, the Beliefnet Community online support group for depression. Her memoir â€œBeyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genesâ€ will be released in May of 2009. Subscribe to Beyond Blue here or visit her at www.ThereseBorchard.com. This article was originally published on Beyond Blue at Beliefnet.com.