Ask Dr. Ernst: It Can Be Done - Staving Off the Winter Blues

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by Dr. Aaron Ernst, D.C. D.PSc.

Winter can be a tough season for some, particularly after all the hullaballoo surrounding Christmas and New Year dies down and we’re left with two or three months of cold, dreary weather. It can feel like a grind. “Just get through it!” we tell ourselves.”

Well what kind of attitude is that? We’ll easily just spend 20% of our lives waiting for something we consider unpleasant to end. How about living instead?

It’s thought that one in four Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but I would imagine many more than that sort of feel gloomy, but just go about their lives with a sort of low-grade depression and don’t think much of it.

There are plenty of tips and tricks to beating the winter blues. Truth is, most of them are just about changing your attitude. Try to enjoy it. Go skiing, sledding, make snowmen with your kids. You might find you have some fun, and being active, is a great way to battle feeling down anyway.

Let’s explore some other ideas.

  1. Less sunlight is the cause of a host of problems. It lowers your metabolism, throws your sleep patterns out of whack, and limits the amount of Vitamin D you naturally receive—which comes with its own set of problems—including depression. People get the majority of their Vitamin D from the sun, but depending on your latitude, the UVB rays you need to absorb to get Vitamin D won’t even penetrate the atmosphere because of the angle at which you are oriented to the sun. So, consider a Vitamin D supplement. The FDA recommends 1000 units per day just to stave off rickets, but many doctors are recommending as many as 8000 per day for you to get the full benefits of Vitamin D.
  2. Consider getting a sunlamp. It’s amazing how much they can feel like sunlight. They are often used to treat depression among psychiatric patients, even aside from anything winter related. Furthermore, they inhibit the release of melatonin in your brain, the chemical associated with bringing you down to a sleepy state.
  3. Protect your immune system. Feelings of depression often follow a bout of the cold or flu—which tend to proliferate during winter months. You can do this by drinking enough water, eating healthy foods (particularly vegetables and dark, leafy greens), getting enough exercise and exercise, which brings us to…
  4. Get enough exercise. If you generally exercise outside, but it’s too cold, consider a gym membership. The YMCA offers income-based memberships if finances are a concern. Exercise releases endorphins, which are chemicals that reduce your perception of pain—including emotional pain. Plus, being healthier and fitter makes you feel good in general, and look better, both of which boost your self-esteem and feelings of control over your life.
  5. Crank up your favorite jams. There was actually a study in 2013 where listening to upbeat music was shown to improve the mood of participants. But who needs a study to tell you that? We all know good music makes you smile.
  6. Participate in some service. There are always opportunities to volunteer to help others in need. It’s a great way to give yourself some perspective, participate in something positive and make someone else’s life a little better. The key, however, is to volunteer time, not money. It’s easy to write a check and go about your life, and you won’t get the benefits. It’s something else completely to get your hands dirty.
  7. Make plans. It’s known that simply planning a vacation—maybe to somewhere sunny and warm—can elevate your mood, particularly during the winter months. It can be as simple as researching bed & breakfasts in a place in which you’re interested, or comparing airline prices. It gives you something to look forward to, which is essential in life.

Lastly, a word on acceptance. Short of uprooting your life and moving to the equator, winter is a fact of life. We can fight it—which is what depression amounts to—or we can embrace reality and enjoy ourselves despite seasons that might be considered less pleasant than others.

For more on how to improve your health, outlook and make 2016 your best year yet, join me on February 1 @ 6:30pm for Dinner with Dr. Ernst. Click below to register. See you soon!