Monday, January 16, 2012

Five Ways to Fight the Cold Weather Doldrums

There's no denying it: Those of us in the northern hemisphere are facing colder, drearier weather, and it won't change until next Spring. Even the mentally and emotionally healthiest people often find themselves suffering to one degree or another from winter doldrums. Staving off seasonal affective disorder, as it's officially called, is easier for some than for others, but there is hope in overcoming or at least minimizing this condition.

What is SAD?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a temporary depression caused by a change in the brain's chemistry that is seasonally oriented. Darker, wetter and colder weather are common triggers for this disease, but SAD can also occur during any season. It's not a separate classification of depression, but it's considered a “specifier” of depression, and depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

In the United States, SAD has been reported in 1.4 percent of the people in Florida and in 9.7 percent of the people in New Hampshire, the states representing the lowest and highest per capita frequency in that country.

The SAD that occurs during the summer is usually the most severe, even “out-occuring” the winter season, despite common belief to the contrary.

What Are the Symptoms?

People suffering from seasonal affective disorder often experience lethargy accompanied by reduced energy, changes in sleeping patterns —either sleeping more or less than before-- and even elevated but unidentified anxiety.

The classic SAD, is winter-based, that which we call “winter doldrums” and is usually more easily treated than for other seasons.

A. Light therapy: Not referring to a minimal treatment, light therapy is exposure to higher degrees of light, whether artificially or naturally induced. Taking walks during the daytime aids the condition by not only exercising but also increasing exposure to UV rays even on a cloudy day. The fresh air is stimulating, and the increase blood flow from the mild exercise aids in muscle tone, calorie usage and oxygen dissemination.

B. Anti-depression medication: While people might be reluctant to take anti-depression medication, its temporary use can help eradicate the severity of some SAD symptoms and prevent further declination into a more permanent form of depression. Anti-depression medications adjust the brain chemistry and causes an elevation of moods.

However, as many as 20 percent of people who suffer from SAD progress to bi-polar disorder, so it's extremely important to differentiate improvement of symptoms with a manic phase of bi-polar disorder. If you experience mood swings that vacillate up and down, see your physician quickly.

C. Melatonin: Some cases of SAD may prompt your physician to recommend elevated doses of melatonin, which directly affects depression. Doses are carefully timed, however, and the hormone should never be self-prescribed.

D. Proper Diet and Portions: Compliments of the hibernation instinct we all have, the craving for carbohydrates as stored body fuel is elevated in SAD sufferers. Counter the craving with exercise and higher levels of protein and calcium, but watch the size of portions. Eating a few more but smaller meals during the day helps satisfy the craving for food while limiting your caloric intake.

E. Schedule Activities: Keep in close touch with family and friends. Make “girls nights out” or “afternoons at the bookstore or coffee shop” regular occurrences. Take a short course at a local community college or do some volunteering. Human contact during your affected times is very important: It draws you out of yourself, reinforces your self-esteem and allows others to help boost moods. It helps them as much as it does you.

The author of this post is Sara Woods, who writes for Coupon Croc. Treat the common cold and other seasonal symptoms and save when you shop online with Pharmacy2U discount codes.