Jan-07-2014

Coping with the extreme cold weather blues

Too Cold

With temperatures plunging to record lows and with the continual barrage of cold, snow, and wind over the last several weeks, it’s no wonder that many people may be feeling irritable, helpless and even a bit sad right now.

Every year at this time, right after the holidays are over, many people experience the winter weather blues. The difference is this year, some may feel a bit worse, especially if living in parts of the midwest, north and northeast United States where the cold and snow are adding insult to injury.

Just when people thought they were going to go back to normal schedules and routines after the holiday break,  it’s all changed, with work and school closings, transportation delays, and the kids home for several days. Then there’s the unbearable cold and constant snow, which make it difficult to get out of the house. These things can add to feelings of  helplessness or anxiety.

So, how can you beat these severe winter weather blues? How can you not just survive, but thrive in the cold and snow yet to come?

Shed some light on it

Researchers know that the decrease in the amount of sunlight during winter months increases our production of melatonin, which makes us sleepy  and can also cause depression. So, its really important that you make every attempt to get some natural light (standing by a window doesn’t count.) You need to get outside if at all possible; even if it’s just for a few minutes a day, and even if it’s overcast, it still helps increase energy level and mood.

If your winter blues is severe and has gone on  for at least the past two winters,  you might have a case of seasonal affective disorder. Talk to your primary care provider or a psychologist who might suggest an artificial “light box” treatment that mimics the effects of natural light.

Get moving   

Yes, you could move to Florida or Arizona, but you don’t have to do that kind of moving. Researchers have found that getting exercise–any kind of movement, actually–helps increase mood and energy levels. This year, if the extreme cold and snow is making it more difficult to get to the gym or a yoga class, don’t give up. Try pairing with a buddy to workout. Walk around an indoor shopping mall or practice yoga at home. Take a few breaks at work and walk more up and down stairs–you are still getting some exercise and will feel better.

Stay connected to friends, family and community 

Psychologists know that having social interaction is extremely important for our  sense of well being. Feeling isolated can contribute to feelings of depression. Even though it may be more difficult to travel outside, thanks to the Internet and social media, there ways to stay connected. And the good old-fashioned phone works quite nicely as well. Reach out to your friends and family. Check in on older family members or neighbors who live alone. Invite neighbors to come over and have a simple meal together. It will do wonders for your mood.

Make a plan for each day and take control 

Take control of what you can. Even if your school or work is closed, you should still get up at your usual time and get dressed. Don’t sleep in. The natural light of the morning is critical for combating the winter blues. Having a routine each day also helps maintain circadian rhythm and resets mood. It also prevents the body from releasing too much melatonin too early in the day, which can bring on sleepiness and even lower mood. Most importantly, when you have a plan for the day, a project to do, or friends to call, it makes you feel more empowered and in control, and helps stave off those winter blues.

Know when to reach out for help  

Despite best efforts and intentions, there are times that things may not get better and you may need to get help for yourself or loved ones.

Sometimes those winter blues can turn into seasonal affective disorder, be a major depression or an underlying medical condition. Don’t ignore the warning signs. There are many effective treatments for these conditions. You don’t have to suffer through the entire winter. It can feel better starting now!

Photo by Brian Koprowski via Flickr.

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