Beat the Winter Blues

By: Stefanie Rose Miles

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Here at the Courtyards of Andover, we have the perfect event to lift your spirits. And it happens almost every week during the winter months! Comedy at the Courtyards will help get past the slump you might be going through. But there are other activities that can make a difference as well. We’ve done the research and want to share it with you!

It’s not uncommon for many people to experience sadness, discontentment, or boredom once the first of January arrives.  The busy-ness and excitement of the holidays can leave us in a slump after the New Year.  Family and friends have come and gone, presents have been opened, and decorations are left to be taken down and stored for another year.  At the very least, a little let down is entirely normal for anyone.  Top it off with the fact that weather more conducive to spending time outdoors is more than a couple of months away. 

For many, this let down is more than just the winter blues.  Although the cause is unknown, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a real type of depression. Most often it begins in the fall, becomes more extreme during the winter months, and passes once better weather arrives.  Symptoms of fall/winter SAD can include lack or loss of energy, appetite changes (more often associated with carbohydrate cravings, possibly causing weight gain), and increased sleep. In much fewer cases SAD can occur in spring and summer, so overall symptoms of the disorder may include the following:

            •           Lost interest in activities

            •           Struggles with concentration

            •           Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, which could also cause feelings of guilt

            •           Thoughts of death or suicide

Anyone may experience one or more of these symptoms at times, but cause for concern would be if these feelings persist for more than a couple of days.  We all know that exercising and eating well are always good for improving or maintaining health, so they’re certainly helpful in managing SAD as well as in battling the blues.  

Light therapy can be very helpful, particularly natural light--so a paid, extended vacation to the Bahamas would be perfect.  But if you’re like most of us and that doesn’t fit your budget, a much more affordable and practical alternative is a light therapy box or lamp.  These type devices generally cost between $30 and $100.  Recommendations are for about thirty minutes of exposure per day, and studies have shown that best results are obtained when used in the morning.  If it’s more difficult for you to get out of bed in the winter (if it’s not, who are you?!) a dawn stimulator may be just what you need.  It slowly gets brighter, just as natural light. Some studies have proven them to be just as effective as antidepressants.  In addition to helping you wake up, it can improve your mood upon rising.  Although I prefer a gentle sound or song to a blaring, monotonous alarm, even the pleasant tune can turn into starting my day on a sour note.

Staying busy is one sure-fire solution.  Time fillers like work, errands, and chores definitely can keep you busy, but make time to busy yourself with something more enjoyable as well.  Plan a weekend get-away with friends.  If it’s a road trip, be sure to have a backup plan in case bad weather gets in the way.  A night at a hotel with a good restaurant, hot tub, and/or bar is a great Plan B.  Planning a trip for spring break or summer can be another fun time-filler.  Having something definite to look forward to is a positive any time.

Turn on the tunes. Music has the potential to alter the mood nearly instantly.  It has the power to invoke deep emotion and transport us in time.  So as in the words of Elton John, "Tune in and turn 'em on," but not the sad songs!  Play something you know will lift your mood, and try singing along while you're at it.  

Embrace the great outdoors! So, there's a reason it's "winter" blues--it's winter, which means we're usually deprived of outdoor time.  Understandably, most of us are exposed to prolonged days of temperatures cold enough to limit our time outside.  But this doesn't mean we can't brave it.  If you tend to hibernate, get out of your comfort zone and get the heavy coat and all the necessary garb on that will enable you to be outside even if only for a few minutes.  Obviously moving will keep you from freezing; consider playing in the snow, taking a walk, or shoveling the sidewalk.  If you just can't get motivated to do more than sit on the front steps (or stand if they're snowy or icy) do it.  Getting some fresh air, feeling the chill on your face can be invigorating and give you a shot of Vitamin D that you just can't get through diet or supplements.  And speaking of feeling the chill--perhaps turning down the temperature on your thermostat would help.  Wearing another layer indoors instead of cranking up the heat can benefit more than your bank account.

Laugh yourself silly. My personal favorite thing to do beat the winter blues is to go out for a night at a comedy club.  Who doesn't enjoy laughing?  If you're sad or in a bad mood, however, you might feel like you're not in the mood to laugh--but if that's the case, laughing is precisely what you need!  That's why it's also important to let close friends or family know how the time of year affects you before it does.  

Watching a funny TV show or movie just isn't the same.  Even though that could be helpful, you'll laugh far more when the comedy is live and in person, even if you go solo.  If you tend to be a loner or especially if you live alone, being in the presence of others and sharing a laugh can do wonders for your spirits.  By going to the club for your funny fix you get to check off a number of uplifting reinforcements against your “down time.”  You get to change your surroundings, likely you've had a shot of cooler, outdoor air, and there truly is no better medicine than laughter.

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