Feeling the winter blues?

Extension Connection

If you feel tired when the sun sets, listen to your body -- this is the natural way our bodies were programmed to feel.

Most of us, however, stay up much later than our bodies would like, sometimes six or more hours later than the sunsets, which can impair the adrenal glands and the immune system.

As many as half a million people in the United States may have winter depression. Another 10 to 20 percent may experience mild seasonal affective disorder, known as SAD.

It is a type of depression that follows the seasons. SAD has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain brought on by the shortening of daylight hours and a lack of sunlight in winter. The most difficult months for SAD sufferers are January and February.

Common symptoms of winter depression include the following:

  • A change in appetite, especially a craving for sweet or starchy foods
  • Weight gain
  • A heavy feeling m the arms or legs
  • A drop in energy level
  • Fatigue
  • A tendency to oversleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Increased sensitivity to social rejection
  • Avoidance of social situations

Sometimes making small changes in your life can help you to pull yourself out of a funk.

The following ideas can make a big difference in your day and your mood:

  • Get out into the daylight as often as possible. If the weather permits, go outdoors at lunchtime when the natural light is at its brightest.
  • Add some new decorations to your home or office.
  • Organize your living or working space (clearing clutter can be calming for your mind).
  • Exercise regularly at least three times a week and pay special attention to your posture. Sitting and standing upright and breathing deeply can make a big difference to your general attitude and feeling of well being.
  • Seek the company of upbeat friends and family members who have a positive outlook on life -- they can have a big influence on the quality of your mood.
  • Place live flowers with vibrant colors in your living and work space.
  • Open the blinds and allow as much daylight into the rooms where you work, play and live.
  • Wear fun, brightly colored clothing that cheers you up.
  • Light therapy lasting from 15 to 30 minutes per day could also be considered as a treatment approach. These lights should have an ultra-violet block to prevent potential danger to the skin and the eyes.
  • Treat yourself to a massage or warm bubble bath.
  • Prepare a special meal for your family or significant other.
  • Keep a journal to reflect on your emotions or day's activities,
  • Call an old friend.
  • Plan fun activities outdoors on the weekend or simply take a walk during the middle of the day.
  • Read books and enjoy music and movies with an uplifting theme.

Symptoms of SAD can keep coming back year after year, and they tend to come and go at about the same time every year. SAD is a diagnosable mental health disorder mat may require treatment.

If you regularly experience a significant, lasting, downturn of mood when the weather gets colder and daylight lessens, then you should consider consulting a psychiatrist or other health professional to discuss your symptoms.

For more information, contact Elisa at the CSU Moffat County Extension Office.

Information on SAD is also available in Spanish. 824-9180.

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