Friday, January 21, 2011

Winter Blues?

Autumn and winter blow in bearing change. Days grow shorter and cloudier, animals fatten up for hibernation. Some people like me watch their seasonal jobs wind down, which can be a tough transition all on it's own. But dark days and cold weather seem to bring forth a shift in some people's psyche, like seasonal mood swings. Many folks brush it off as the winter blues... and it is. Many people report tendencies of overeating during wintertime, leading to extra pounds. Oversleeping is also a noted issue, in which victims awake tired and tardy. Other symptoms include utter lack of energy and motivation, and in some cases, depression. Weight gain, grogginess, inability to focus, social withdrawal and even cabin fever can all be attributed to this condition. Experts sum it up as seasonal affective disorder.

Seasonal affective disorder (ironically abbreviated SAD) is a condition in which season changes affect a person's mood and behavior. There is a proven connection between a humans physical well being and psyche. Scientists commonly associate SAD with lack of sunlight. Sunlight supplies us with vitamin D, controls our serotonin levels, and even keeps our biological clock on track. So a lack of light throws off our hormones and other regulating chemicals, and even affects our sense of time. Lack of activity also plays a role in the winter haze. Many people avoid the cold by cranking up the heaters and settling into a stationary lifestyle for months. With walls as limitations, people deprive themselves of the healthy amount of activity they need daily. Exercise and activity release endorphins that keep energy flowing in one's body. Less mobility means less energy. According to statistics collected from the Mayo Clinic and Wikipedia, roughly 15% of Americans demonstrate at least a mild form SAD. The demographic most widely affected is women. It has also been recorded that the further one lives from the equator, the stronger the symptoms.

Some doctors suggest treatments for diagnosed cases of SAD such as light therapy, psychotherapy, and in some severe cases, antidepressants. I, however, really think that with some simple positive changes to one's daily routine, most symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can be reduced or even prevented. I'm not saying that everyone in the world is meant to take up skiing or boarding. But it shouldn't be hard to find the beauty in wintertime. Cold temps are no excuse, anyone can learn to layer clothes properly (a wise friend once told me "there's no such thing as poor weather, just poor gear".) Once you bundle up warm, get outside-- go for a snowshoe hike, or take a scenic walk around town. Go to a local playground and raid the icy monkey bars. Anything! Chances are once you start moving, you will soon shed a layer. It's surprising how much warm blood you get pumping through your veins on a cold moonlit hike. Clear winter nights with snowy ground are as bright as day, and the best night hikes you'll have all year! Moonlight does just as much good as sunlight.

So, the winter blues have you down. Hold on to who you are, what makes you happy, and why you keep on rolling. Layer up, then go build a snow fort with the kids. Don't forget that there is beauty in everything. And never stop moving.

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