Baby, it’s cold outside! Coping with the winter blues

It’s hard not to have cabin fever right now if you live and work in the frozen tundra of the Midwest. I recently chatted with some local business friends who have what’s known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This year their symptoms have been hard to manage. The bitter cold and accumulating snow we’ve been experiencing only add to the “winter blues.”

Personally, I am no longer a big fan of winter. I remember the fun days of ice skating, sledding, and really taking advantage of all the fun snow and ice can bring. That was then, this is now. The older I get, the harder it is to appreciate anything about the cold, snow, and ice, except for the pristine beauty after a snowfall. That’s it, and it doesn’t last long.

A couple years ago at a morning meeting, my business friends and I were discussing the impact winter makes on our businesses and our personal lives. One of my friends offered me what she called a “happy lamp,” and while I really wasn’t sure what it was or what it would do, I accepted. Oh “B,” thank you for sharing your extra happy lamp — it’s been a game changer for starting the day.

Most folks only experience a mild version of the winter blues. I’d count myself in that group. Even though I’ve reached the time in life when a Florida or Vegas break means a lot, I can manage to get through. Some folks find themselves with a darker mood until the days start getting much longer — like in March. I’ve heard so many stories of how bleak this winter is shaping up to be, especially after how mild December was. We’ve had a rude awakening. Winter is really here!

I decided to ask a counselor what kinds of tricks we can use to help beat the feeling that our mood is as low as the reading on a thermometer. Here are some of his suggestions:

  • Use a “happy light” energy light for about 30 minutes each day. This can be as effective as antidepressant medication. Opening blinds and letting natural light in can also help provide sunshine.
  • Chocolate! Foods like chocolate, candy, and carbohydrates can provide some temporary good feelings — but don’t expect the good feelings to last long.
  • Exercise. A Harvard University study found that walking fast for 35 minutes a day, five times a week could improve symptoms. While I see folks out walking, all bundled up, I think this would also work at an indoor health club.
  • Plan a vacation. Just thinking about sunny, warm days on our Wisconsin lakes can help create an increase in happiness.
  • Listen to music. Upbeat, cheerful music can improve your mood.
  • Help others. Volunteering often makes us feel better.

Now, when our bodies and brains are craving more daylight, we also need to be more social. My counselor friend says that spending time with friends and loved ones will have a huge impact on your mood. I like that advice — as long as we meet indoors.

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