Tuesday, Nov 29th

Preventing the Winter Blues

SADWhen the nights get longer, the days get colder, and our summer glow starts to wane along with our energy and motivation some of us are prone to get the winter blues. But what is the difference between feeling a bit low during the coldest months of the year and the more severe mental health condition, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? Recently, Stacey Cook, the “Aging In Place” coordinator at Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Services, helped organize a presentation explaining the differences and outlining the warning signs and tips to prevent both the typical winter blues and SAD. While the presentation was hosted for Scarsdale’s more mature residents, the information shared is valuable for all ages.

The program was led by Alyssa Green, a registered nurse working for Jancare, a private home care service. Ms. Green started her presentation by explaining that it is normal and common to feel down during the coldest, darkest winter months especially during December, January, and February. At one point or another, most of us in Scarsdale have probably felt some of the symptoms of typical winter blues including: sadness, lack of motivation, trouble sleeping, or not engaging in regular self-care. This sort of “seasonal sadness” might involve a lack of motivation to get out of bed, not getting dressed and binging on both TV shows and junk food. Ms. Green made clear though, that while the winter blues might make us feel like hunkering down for a day or two, the feelings usually pass quickly and after a short time the affected person is ready to spruce themselves up and re-engage in their daily routines.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, however, is much more than feeling a little sluggish and down because of bad winter weather. In fact, SAD is a diagnosable mental health disorder that, according to Green, affects more than 10 million people in the US alone. The onset of SAD usually occurs in people between the ages of 18 and 30 and affects both men and women. Green went on to explain that while people with SAD may also suffer from a lack of motivation and depressed feelings, the symptoms of SAD are much more intense and debilitating. People with SAD may experience changes in mood, decreased energy levels, a loss of interest in enjoyable activities, inability to focus and concentrate, trouble sleeping and getting out of bed in the morning, a lack of motivation to partake in daily grooming such as brushing teeth, increased appetite and over-eating, feelings of hopelessness and even suicidal thoughts and ideations. And while the winter blues might come and go and can typically be resolved with a few interventions, SAD is overwhelming, persistent and may need to be treated with medication.

The good news is that there are steps to take to prevent both the winter blues and these blues from worsening and turning into Seasonal Affective Disorder. Before symptoms emerge, Green suggests the following preventative steps:

-Stay connected to friends, family, or community. Take advantage of community centers and other local resources to maintain healthy, active relationships.

-Create and maintain an exercise routine. While walking outside in the sunshine and fresh air is highly recommended, even stretching and small exercises at home are beneficial.

-Maintain a balanced diet with lots of water, fruit, and fiber to make sure you take care of your bowels and remove unwanted toxins.

-Establish and stick to a regular sleep routine where you wake up and go to bed at the same times each day.

-Try to get as much natural daylight as possible by going outside or by just making sure to open all the curtains in your home.

If you or someone you know is starting to experience symptoms of the winter blues, Green suggests taking small, simple steps to help get back on track:

-Have a cup of warm tea or take a warm bath.

-Use prayer or meditation to help clear and focus your mind.

-Get outside for an early morning walk.

-Watch a funny show that will make you laugh and help your brain release natural endorphins (but stay away from the news!).

-Get a plant or small pet that you can talk to and will rely on you to take care of it.

-Listen to uplifting music.

-Use a light box for light therapy. Thirty minutes each morning has proven to be helpful for many who struggle with SAD.

It is important to remember, particularly when we set back our clocks and natural daylight ends earlier, to pay attention to our mental well-being and monitor our loved ones. If either you or someone you know seems to be struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder, reach out to a doctor or mental health provider who can prescribe medication or other effective treatment options.

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