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What is the Winter Blues?

The winter blues is a seasonal change in mood and/or behavior, generally occurring during the winter months and usually characterized by one or more of the following:

• Feeling tired or “lazy”
• Overeating, often with cravings for carbohydrates and/or sweets
• Oversleeping and/or poor quality, un-refreshing sleep
• “Hibernating” and not participating in one’s usual leisure, social and other activities
• Procrastination or decreased productivity
• Feeling “down” or “blue”
• Impaired thinking or poor concentration

As many as half of the people living in the New York City vicinity experience some aspects of the winter blues. Some folks who spend long hours working indoors may experience a year-round version of the “winter blues” that is responsive to the same remedies.

. . . And What Can I Do About It?

Get outdoors during the daylight hours. Even on a cloudy, rainy or snowy day, exposure to daylight can help. Don’t look directly at the sun. Consult with your physician if you have any light sensitivity caused by medications or a medical condition.

Get the light indoors: Although not a substitute for getting outdoors, there is some milder benefit to arranging your indoor environment to maximize natural lighting. When possible, open the window shades and sit near the windows.

Get moving: Exercise! Aerobic exercise has proven antidepressant effects. (Of course, check with your physician if you have any medical concerns about starting or boosting an exercise regimen.) If exercising in the evening makes it hard to fall asleep, move your exercise routine to earlier in the day.

Get sufficient sleep: Inadequate sleep has a deleterious effect on mood. Most adults need approximately 8½ hours of sleep every night. If you’re skeptical, try this: for two weeks get 8 ½ hours of sleep every night: if you don’t feel more cheerful, patient and alert, go back to your old ways! If you’re suffering from insomnia, aerobic exercise, properly timed daylight exposure, and avoiding stimulants like caffeine and cigarettes may help.

Get up! Avoid oversleeping. Although the winter blues makes people feel inclined to sleep longer hours, doing so may worsen the problem. Aim to sleep no more than nine hours a night, unless you’re ill or catching up on a sleep debt from previously sleeping too little. If it’s hard to awaken and you feel groggy in the mornings, consider using a “dawn simulator;” see www.cet.org for more information.

Get omega-3s which have been found to help improve mood. Consult with your doctor or nutritionist about whether you would benefit from eating more foods high in omega-3 fatty acids or taking omega-3 or other nutritional supplements.

Get sober: Mood altering substances can aggravate the winter blues: alcohol can exacerbate depression, marijuana may interfere with motivation and initiative, and although stimulating substances like caffeine, nicotine and amphetamines may be alluring when one’s energy level is at a low ebb, they can contribute to anxiety and insomnia which can then worsen the winter blues, leading to a vicious cycle.

Get yourself off the hook: To the extent that you can, plan to take care of more challenging tasks when you’re feeling most energetic.

Get going! Consider taking some or much of your vacation during the winter months, and plan to go away to a sunnier clime where you’ll spend more time outdoors.

Get a jump on it! Be alert to the first signs of the winter blues and take action early, or better yet, take action before the winter blues begins, typically in the fall. It’s easier to prevent the winter blues than to alleviate it once it’s settled in.

Get information: Read. Chronotherapy: Resetting Your Inner Clock to Boost Mood, Alertness, and Quality Sleep by Michael Terman, Winter Blues by Norman Rosenthal, & www.cet.org. Feeling Good & When Panic Attacks by David Burns offer practical advice for all seasons.

Get your doctor’s advice to ensure that a medical condition isn’t contributing to the winter blues.

 Get professional help: If these self-help remedies don’t work, if the problem is interfering with your work, social involvements or other aspects of your life, or if you are having thoughts about death, get professional help from a licensed psychotherapist. There are more effective remedies that a trained professional can advise you about.

The information provided herein is for educational purposes, and does not substitute for a consultation with a professional.