Carolyn Snively, snivelcl@muohio.edu

The winter season is notorious for bringing about more than just frigid temperatures and cloudy days. Many of us who spend December through March experiencing the gloomy weather patterns of the Midwest also experience a mild health condition that makes the winter season seem twice as long. However, we are in control of pulling ourselves out of the slump of the “winter blues.”

Many people living in northern states experience these long, cold winters with irritability, decreased energy, appetite changes, and an overall lower mood. According to Jeffrey Rossman, PhD, Canyon Ranch’s director of life management, about 10 percent of people are medically diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), an extreme case of the “winter blues.” SAD is a type of depression that occurs at the same time each year, most commonly during the winter months. SAD is characterized by lethargy, irritability, weight loss or gain, depression, social withdrawal and overall loss of interest in and focus on daily activities.

Light therapy is the most common method of treatment for forms of seasonal depression, but if your symptoms are mild, there are alternatives. Out of the natural approaches to boosting your mood during the winter, these are the easiest, most economical, and most effective.

Make your environment brighter: Do what you can to add sunlight to your home and workspace. Open all the blinds at home and choose a seat next to a bright window at the library or in class.

Go outside: Take advantage of every sunny winter day by being outdoors. Go on a walk, shop at an outdoor mall, or wash your car. Even on cold, cloudy winter days, you will benefit from soaking up what little natural, outdoor light there is.

Exercise: Physical activity releases endorphins (chemicals that release positive feelings) thus reducing stress and anxiety felt during “winter blues.” Exercising will give you back some of the energy you’ve lost and will improve your mood.

Eat high-energy foods: To beat the lethargic feeling, eat lean protein, like grilled chicken or fish, as well as complex carbohydrates, like whole-grains. These foods will keep you fuller longer and are great sources of “brain power.” Avoid alcohol, sugar and fried foods which only give you short-term energy and make you feel weighed down.

Change your mentality: Don’t dwell on feeling less peppy during the winter. Learn to think more positively. Instead of thinking that winter seems unbearable and will never end, figure out what will make winter more enjoyable for you. The next time you have a negative thought, remember what it is that will improve your mood and pursue it. Also, connecting with friends and family elicits love and affection which improves attitudes. Whether it’s going to dinner with friends or helping out in the community, the positive stimulation from social interaction can make the winter season more bearable.

Jet-set: If your budget allows, soaking up some Vitamin D on a mid-winter, beach vacation is always an option to remedy a case of the blues.

The next five weeks until departures for tropical spring break vacations don’t have to be unbearable. Despite the clouds and low temperatures, go outside and take advantage of what natural light there is. Stay social, keep a positive attitude and you may find enjoyment in the winter season.

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