Winter blues strike 25 million Americans

February 1, 2008 2:32:18 PM PST
Are you feeling frustrated, hungry all the time and maybe even a little sad?You're not alone. In fact, you could be one of the 25 million Americans who feels this way each year.

It's called the winter blues. It's a normal process that occurs with the lack of sunshine and the extreme cold temperatures.

If your mood reflects what's happening with the weather, you're not imagining it.

Scientists take seasonal mood swings seriously. And they say we should, too.

The lack of sunshine is enough to make anyone feel depressed. The winter blues and its more severe counterpart seasonal affective disorder usually peak this time of year. So what do you do? A few simple steps might help give you a better outlook.

You can almost hear the blues in the wind, the snow, the grey sky. You're left with a feeling of sadness, fatigue, low energy and disinterest. Can't figure out why?

There are two possible reasons - serotonin and melatonin. Scientists believe fewer hours of daylight in winter may alter the body's production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep wake cycle and serotonin, which is responsible for mood, hunger and sleep.

At WLS talk radio, plenty of humor and the glow of a light box help hosts Roe Conn and Bill Leff deal with the dreary days of winter.

"For Roe, he's got problems, so for a guy like that whose negative and angry all the time, I think it turns him around," said Leff.

"Maybe it's all in my head, but it makes me feel better," said Conn.

Conn and Leff are having fun with it, but psychiatrist William Gilmer says if used the right way, light boxes can help by simulating sunlight and perking up your mood. Start using them in the fall when the days get shorter, and in the morning at least 30 minutes a day, just about a foot and a half away from you.

"The most important thing is to incorporate into a daily routine in the morning that's not going to become disruptive that you are not going to avoid because it's a hassle," said Gilmer.

And doctors say there are other easy coping strategies for the winter blues.

"As the seasons change, just like everything else, we also have to potentially change our routine a bit," said Helen Lee D.C., holistic chiropractor.

Lee has patients adjust to what she calls the core essentials. Keep it simple, for example, diet. Adding just one extra fruit or vegetable a day will not only give the body a boost but the extra vitamins or nutrients will also fortify your mind. Stay away from foods you might crave, such as sugary junk foods. They may temporarily jolt the serotonin levels in your brain, but it's short lived, and then you end up feeling worse.

One study shows that one of the best mood enhancers is monounsaturated fats. They're found in foods such as avocado, olive oil and nuts.

Stay active. Take a walk outside, even if it's bone chilling cold. A little exposure to sunlight can help elevate your mood. Otherwise, any exercise will do.

Even sleep is important. Too much or too little sleep can contribute to feelings of depression.

Drink water. Dehydration can make you lethargic, and water restores energy levels.

"I know when I don't drink enough water, I start to get crabby," said Gigi Hashish, chiropractic patient.

Hashish is using green tea and surrounding herself in a positive environment to boost her mood. She's on the right track. Experts say simply thinking good thoughts, even forcing yourself to smile can actually have a physical effect. Newer research even shows that people who sit around dwelling on their blue mood can actually aggravate their condition.

If depression lasts for weeks and interferes with daily life, then it may be time to seek help from a professional.

As for the less severe winter blahs, people can also look into taking supplements or herbal remedies. The good news is the days are now starting to get longer again.

Helen Lee, D.C.
Touch of Life Chiropractic
2500 W. Higgens Rd.
Hoffman Estates, Il 60195

Dr. William Gilmer
Northwestern Memorial Hospital
Medical Director Asher Depression Center
446 E. Ontario, #7-100
Chicago, IL 60611
P: (312) 695-1899