8 ways to beat the winter blues

  • By Andrea Brown, Herald Writer
  • Friday, December 28, 2012 4:17pm
  • Life

It’s hell getting out of bed on these dark mornings.

Like many people, Paul Schoenfeld felt groggy and disoriented, and stayed in a funk for several hours.

That changed after he started using a device that beams artificial sunrise.

“It’s a globe that is set on top of a clock,” he said. “It glows for 30 minutes before the alarm goes off.”

It’s not magic. It’s a tool to deal with seasonal affective disorder, aptly nicknamed SAD.

“I am a fellow sufferer,” said Schoenfeld, director of behavioral health at The Everett Clinic. “This is a rough time of year for people. I hear it from a lot of patients.”

He estimates about 14 million Americans get seriously depressed during the short winter months. Another 33 million have SAD symptoms like his.

“They feel foggy,” he said. “They have difficulty concentrating. People crave carbohydrates and they often put on weight.”

SAD strikes in southern climates, but it is worse in the northern latitudes, when daytime is marked by muted grays that turn pitch black by late afternoon.

The lack of light turns ordinarily energetic people into zombies.

“It’s an energy crisis,” Schoenfeld said.

Blame it on our wiring. Turns out humans are not that different than the average bear.

“We are part of the animal kingdom, though we don’t like to think of ourselves that way. We are affected by nature,” he said.

“Animals during the winter are less active and, unless nocturnal, sleep when it’s dark and wake up when the sun rises. The only hunting and gathering we do is at the supermarket. Our lives are artificially created around work.”

The easy thing to do is slump on the couch, stuff your face with cookies and watch bad movies.

This only makes matters worse.

Here are ways to deal with the wintertime blues.

1. Go outside. Walk in the rain.

That might seem counterintuitive.

“In the winter it is really important to get outside as much as possible, even on gray days when it is raining. You benefit from the natural light,” Schoenfeld said.

2. Exercise.

Yeah, you knew this one was coming.

“Studies have shown that exercise is equally as effective as medication for mild to moderate depression,” he said.

“Develop an exercise habit during the summer. It will become part of your habit so in the winter that habit is already there. It’s hard to develop when feeling low-energy.”

Don’t rely on making it a New Year’s resolution.

“Many people give it up. By February, they’re hanging their clothes on the NordicTrack,” Schoenfeld said.

3. Take vitamin D3 daily.

“There is a little bit of controversy,” he said. “But blood levels have shown people are deficient in winter.”

4. Lighten up.

There are a variety of energy lights, glow lamps and rise-and-shine clocks.

“You can get them with music and chirping birds,” Schoenfeld said.

Some devices hook up to an iPhone and do everything under the sun.

5. Beware of those bright and shiny places that lure you in. For example: nightclubs, malls and casinos.

“It gives a boost,” he said, “but then you have other problems, too.”

6. Escape.

“Get out of Dodge,” he said. “Get away for a week. Go to Florida or Mexico or Arizona or Hawaii.”

7. Have a latte.

There’s a reason the first Starbucks was started in sunless Seattle.

“Coffee is fine in moderation,” Schoenfeld said. “Too much will get you hyped up.”

8. Hang in there. Spring is coming.

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