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Are You Already Sick of Winter?

by | Jan 11, 2022 | Health

It’s that time of year again when the winter blahs arrive. Some people breeze right through them and others truly struggle. The weather gets colder and the days get shorter. There are cartoons about them, memes that highlight them, jokes on Facebook, and even songs written about them. In his song, “Boat Drinks,” Jimmy Buffet’s lyrics complain about seasonal depression by saying, “I shot two holes in the freezer, I think I have cabin fever.”  It’s normal for our moods to change slightly with the seasons. Compounded with closures, postponements, and cancellations due to COVID and its restrictions, this time of year can decidedly be one that brews emotional disaster. According to Dr. Venkata Ravi Chivukula, Chief of Psychiatry at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, seasonal depression is very real and should be taken seriously.  If your mood changes are so severe that they interfere with your daily life, you may even have a health condition called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Some people know they have this problem every year and can plan for it. To others, it isn’t as clear.

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seasonal affective disorder,mental health,tips and tricks,health,healthy rowan,seasonal depression,help,physical health,stay active,healthy,rowan moves
If you experience seasonal affective disorder, you’re not alone — it affects around 1 in 20 adults in the United States and  many of the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are similar to other forms of depression. The difference is that SAD symptoms always begin at a certain time of year and go away when the seasons change again. Symptoms of seasonal depression may include:

  • Losing interest in work and activities you used to enjoy
  • Oversleeping and feeling very tired
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Gaining weight and craving carbs more than usual
  • Withdrawing from friends and social activities
  •  Lack of energy

 

Experts aren’t sure what causes SAD, but researchers are studying how factors like sun exposure may affect risk. The lack of direct sunlight in the winter can make it difficult for the brain to stay awake. Vitamin D deficiency can occur when people do not get enough direct sunlight during the fall and winter, which can also contribute to depression.

 

You may be at higher risk for SAD if you:

  • Live farther north, where you get less daylight during the winter
  • Have another mental health disorder, like bipolar disorder
  • Have a family history of depression

 

Like other forms of depression, SAD is more common in women. It’s also more common in younger adults.

So what can you do if you think you are having seasonal depression or even SAD? While a trip to the Caribbean sounds like the perfect treatment, between financial challenges and COVID, that is unlikely to work for most of us. However, there are many strategies you can use that may help.

  • Get more sunlight. Try to get outside during daylight hours, even when the weather is cold or cloudy. Opening blinds or curtains to let sunlight in can also help. Rowan County has parks and greenways that are great places for walks or bike rides. Grab a friend, bundle up and go for a walk!
  • Stay active. Getting physical activity can boost your mood and ease symptoms of stress and anxiety. Using the YMCA for yoga or other classes is an option. The YMCA has done a great job of managing activities with COVID in mind to assure cleanliness and social distancing. Healthy Rowan is launching a new initiative called Rowan Moves, which I will write about in my next blog. In the meantime you can learn about it by accessing www.rowanmmoves.com
  • Plan Winter Activities: We look forward every January to the arrival of the garden seed catalogs. Browsing through the pictures and planning what we want to plant in the spring can help the blues. Even starting seeds indoors in the winter can provide a diversion to the monotonous dreary days. Winter is also a great time to enjoy reading. By visiting the library or the Book Sale the second Saturday of every month at the West End plaza you can enjoy a wide variety of books. Re-read some of the classics, or enjoy some of our own local authors such as John Hart or Kristy Woodson Harvey.
  • Eat healthy. A balanced diet with plenty of protein and vitamins can help support energy and mood during winter months as well as support a healthy immune system to ward of COVID and flu. Preparing comforting foods, cooking large batches of special dishes for the freezer to eat at later dates is a fun activity. My husband and I made a batch of spaghetti sauce today and put it into containers for the freezer to eat over the weeks ahead.
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Try to get into a consistent sleep routine. Most adults need seven to eight hours a night.
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Dr. Venkata Ravi Chivukula, Chief of Psychiatry at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center.
If your depression is impacting your daily life, you may need greater help. According to Dr. Chivukula, “if you have persistent depression which is affecting your work, relationships and daily routines such as decreased appetite and inability to sleep, you should seek medical help. Don’t wait for it to take you over!”

That help may include:

  • Talk therapy: Speaking regularly with a mental health professional can help with depression. Talking with a therapist can help change your thought patterns and improve your coping skills.
  • Medications: Your doctor may prescribe medicines called antidepressants to treat your mood symptoms before, during and after the winter months.
  • Phototherapy (light therapy): This treatment uses artificial light to mimic natural daylight. It can help balance chemicals in your brain that affect your mood. Exposure to a light therapy box for thirty minutes per day can suppress the release of melatonin by stimulating the body’s circadian rhythms.  (You can get light therapy boxes on Amazon for a reasonable price.) Dr. Chivukula suggests you need 10,000 lux and to use it 10 minutes twice a day. In talking with a friend from Spokane, Washington, I was told of bars and restaurants in his community that feature light therapy boxes as part of the décor during winter.

 

Fortunately, because of where we live, winter doesn’t last long and we can soon look forward to warmer weather and longer days of sunshine. After January 11 we are gaining 2 minutes of sunlight every day, and then 3 minutes a day by mid-February. By June 16 we will have 15 hours and 13 minutes of sunlight!!! Something to look forward to for sure.

About The Author

Dari Caldwell

I was born and raised on the northern end of Kannapolis, NC and after college (UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University) I lived away from North Carolina for 12 years, during which I earned a doctorate in Health Care Administration. My career has been in healthcare for over 40 years and in addition to being a Registered Nurse, I have held healthcare executive positions in Los Angeles, California, New York, Concord, Charlotte, and finally completed my career as President of Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, where I retired in 2020. I live in and love Rowan County and have enjoyed immersing myself in the community on various volunteer boards such as Rowan Cabarrus Community College, Rowan Chamber of Commerce, Rowan Economic Development, Novant Hospice Advisory, Healthy Rowan, and am now Board Chair for the Rowan Board of Health. In retirement, my husband David and I have enjoyed our hobby of vegetable gardening, and visiting our children. We have two sons – Trent, who is the head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Lenoir Rhyne and is married to Brittany. They have 3 children including brand new twins! Our younger son Chris lives in Shreveport, Louisiana where he is an orthopedic surgery resident physician. We love sports, and also enjoy time at the lake, the beach, and with my 93 year old very spry mother!