Chasing Those Winter Blues Away, Part I

Pretty blue nature scene

Hi, there! It’s Brooke here. Well, we’ve gone back to work, the kids are back in school, Christmas decorations are taken down and packed away, and all we see in front of us are normal, plain old days with nary a festive party in sight. Sigh. Careful now . . . don’t let those winter blues sneak up on you. Did you know that this coming Monday, January 21, is “Blue Monday”? Though sources vary, Blue Monday is generally (and only theoretically, one would hope) observed on the Monday of the third full week of January. Dr. Cliff Arnall, a researcher at Cardiff University, calculated this day to be the epicenter of dim hope, according to six factors:

1. Weather conditions

2. Time elapsed since Christmas

3. Debt left over from Christmas shopping mayhem

4. Seasonal dip in motivation

5. Time elapsed since failing to implement New Year’s resolutions (told you they were tricky!)

6. Our need to take action and not having much to look forward to during the late winter months

Well, that sounds about right. But I refuse to feel sorry for myself just because the conditions are right. When I’m feeling low, I like to take a brisk walk outside in the cold air—something about the bracing nature of arctic chill combined with exercise helps me get out of my own head. Or on a self-medicating note, I may turn to caffeine, Barnes and Noble, or Bridget Jones’ Diary. But a good, old-fashioned cry never hurt anybody either.

winter-blues

We’ve all heard of SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. This is a type of depression that affects people during the fall and winter months, when days are short, skies are overcast, the weather is icy and uncomfortable, and darkness seems to reign over our few precious hours before and after work. SAD can also affect people during the spring and summer months, for reverse reasons. This mood disorder usually causes depressive symptoms, such as low energy, the desire to sleep more than normal, feelings of sadness or moodiness, and sometimes an increased desire for carbohydrates (leading to weight gain, if unchecked). Conversely, summertime SAD may actually cause hyperactivity and agitation (possibly weight loss—but not a good diet strategy).

Seasonal affective disorder is thought to be caused by several things:

Circadian rhythm, or biological clock: Changes to our biological clock due to shortened daylight and longer periods of darkness can contribute to trouble sleeping deeply and waking easily. Our circadian rhythm can also be thrown out of whack by our becoming jet lagged during travel or by performing various kinds of shift work, especially night shifts that change every few months.

Melatonin: Seasonal changes can disrupt our body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep patterns and mood.

Serotonin: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate our mood, sleep, muscle contraction, appetite, memory and learning, and even blood clotting! Some studies have found that a drop in serotonin levels can cause depression.

Of course, not all sad feelings in the cold months signal clinical SAD. But we can use what we know about seasonal affective disorder to keep our spirits up, regardless of the cause. Get prepared for Blue Monday by checking back this weekend for some great tips on chasing those winter blues away! See you soon for Part II!

Have a great day!

~ Brooke

Any thoughts and ideas expressed here are not meant to diagnose, treat, or prescribe. Please seek help from a qualified medical professional if you (or anyone you know) are experiencing feelings of sadness lasting for more than a day or two, your appetite has decreased significantly, your quality and amount of sleep are poor, you’ve lost interest in activities or spending time with people you once enjoyed, or you’ve had thoughts of hopelessness or suicide. Please take your symptoms seriously, and take care of yourself!

crocus in winter snow

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