Winterizing Your Mind and Body

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Santa had come and gone. Wrapping paper littered the floor, trampled by children too busy with new toys to notice. In the kitchen, adults in tacky sweaters laughed and shared stories of Christmas past around glasses of chardonnay and eggnog.

In an empty bedroom, Maggie wept into a pillow. She should’ve been soaking up the joyful energy of the children, or giggling with the grownups about the time Uncle Herb set the Christmas tree on fire with his cheap cigar. Instead she cried in solitude, convinced she had ruined yet another Christmas.

Maggie really didn’t have a bad life. She was gainfully employed, longtime husband, kids successfully ensconced in college. By all measures, hers was a successful life.

Unfortunately, even she wasn’t exempt from the winter blues. Every year, starting around Thanksgiving, Maggie seemed to carry a heavy burden. As the temperature got colder and the sun made fewer appearances, her energy sagged along with her interest in most things. Inevitably it would result in her snapping at a family member’s innocuous comment at the Thanksgiving dinner table, or the aforementioned scene on Christmas Day.

Maybe it was the weather, or the memory of so many missing faces from previous happy holidays. Regardless, November through March were just about intolerable.
 
But then things would thaw, the sun would come out, the kids would come home for a few weeks and all was well with the world again. According to the Cleveland Clinic, as much as 20% of the US population
 

suffers from some variance of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). That’s over 60 million people with what amounts to a form of depression.

 
For some there isn’t much they can do outside of seeking professional treatment. But for many others it’s a result of environmental factors and other things that fall within their ability to control. We all spend some time each year “winterizing” our houses, lawns, and cars - why not do the same for our minds and bodies?

There are a few things you, and people like Maggie, can do to prepare yourself for the onrush of cold weather and raw emotions that winter and the holidays bring.

  • Turn on the lights, then turn them off - one of the causes of SAD is the disruption of the body’s normal circadian rhythms by constant dark skies. Fight off these effects by getting out when the sun makes an appearance, and turn on the lights during the day. At night, turn off the lights when you begin your wind-down period, and make your bedroom as dark as possible when sleeping. Start early to develop a habit and routine.

  • Take Vitamin D - sunlight triggers the body to produce vitamin D, which has an incredible range of benefits, from boosting the immune system to fighting osteoporosis. Start a year round regimen, and your body will be prepared for the sun’s usual disappearance for days and sometimes weeks at a time.

  • Start with the hard stuff early - while that title sounds like drinking at dawn, it means you need to take holiday situations packed with stressful deadlines and knock them out in advance. Start your shopping months in advance before the crowds hit. Prepare your holiday cards ahead of time. Iron out travel details long before you have to.
  • Exercise - Besides helping fight off the pounds from holiday eating, exercise has amazing effects on the body, such as the release of dopamine (a bodily chemical that regulates mood, among other things.) Even better, find a partner to workout with, you’ll both enjoy the fitness as well as the companionship. Develop a routine today before the winter hits.
  • Surround yourself with friends - speaking of companionship, isolation is a major spur for SAD. Being with friends - whether exercising or not - will keep you from stewing or mulling about in your home by yourself. The weeks before winter are a great time to rekindle old friendships via one last patio dinner or even a group shopping session. Then, schedule nights out, or friends-only holiday parties, in advance, to give yourself something to look forward to.

For some people, SAD is unavoidable, and they should seek professional help. For most folks, like Maggie, it can be fought off with some effort before the winter months hit. We’ve shared some of our ideas - what do you do to fight off the winter doldrums in advance? Let us know in the comments!

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