Volume 106, Number 10 - March 5, 2009
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Local folks might be feeling 'winter blues'
Feeling a strong urge to nap throughout the day and too lethargic for activities you once enjoyed?
Then a case of the “winter blues” might be the problem.
The winter blues is what doctors and therapists call seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and it’s when a person experiences depression during the winters.
“People go into a conservation mode, where the brain and body begins to conserve resources, and they become less active,” said executive director at High Country Counseling & Resource Centers Steve Corsi. “I think it’s an issue in Western Wyoming and a lot of people don’t even know that they have it.”
Seasonal affective disorder is brought on during the winter months when the temperatures become frigid and the sun sets early, leaving longer periods of darkness.
The length of winter plays an impact on SAD.
“Last winter was one of our longer winters,” Corsi said. “I can remember hearing the complaints from people that they were so sick of winter — they were talking about becoming depressed.”
Corsi and others at High Country Counseling said they have seen an increase in SAD due to the large population growth in the county.
Many people are coming from warmer places that lack cold winters, such as Florida and Louisiana, and are not use to Wyoming winters, he said.
Corsi said the current recession has an impact on people who suffer from winter depression and it has worsened the issue.
“And the uncertainty of government leaders about how long it will last — can only exacerbate people’s feeling of uneasiness,” he said.
Almost half of all adults across the country said they are stressed about their abilities to provide for their family’s basic needs, according to a recent poll conducted by the American Psychological Association.
“In fact, about eight out of 10 adults said that the economy is a significant cause of stress, up from 66 percent in April,” Corsi said.
And that is increasing the number of those with SAD especially in colder states, such as Wyoming, he said.
When people suffer from depression it impacts all aspects of their lives.
It increases fighting and disagreements in relationships, he said.
“Children hearing parents argue and sensing family tension experience their own emotional upset,” Corsi added.
People also tend to turn to alcohol and drug use when depressed, which often amplifies the feeling associated with depression, he said.
“I’ve always found it interesting that people who are depressed drink, it’s counteractive,” he said. “In the short term, it’s going to make them feel better, but in the long term alcohol is a depressant.”
They also seek more caffeine and sweets, which causes them to feel up for a while, but then they crash again, said clinical coordinator at High Country Counseling Maike Tan.
“People should reduce their caffeine and alcohol use, because it’s easy to overuse these when depressed,” she said.
Tan said seasonal affective disorder is common in Wyoming and the clinic sees many clients struggling with it.
“It makes sense why people tend to get depressed in the winter,” she said. When the weather is cold, they want to remain inside and that makes the situation worst, she said.
“One of the big things that I endorse is exercise,” she said. “A lot of people could get off their medicines, if they could get outside and exercise.”
Even cloudy days provide some sunlight and that is what people who suffer from SAD require, she said. Tan said people need at least an hour of sunlight a day to be able to achieve a healthy sleep cycle.
“Getting outside and taking a short walk, even over a hour lunch break, is beneficial,” she said. “It takes an extra effort to bundle up and get outside, but it’s well worth it.”
Other ways to escape the “winter blues” are to stay connected with family and friends and to set aside some downtime for yourself.
“We are social beings and it’s important that we nurture that part of ourselves,” she said.
Taking time from the day to allow for some relaxation, where a person is not multitasking is vital.
“Even if it’s just time not spent multitasking in the car while driving,” Tan said.
She doesn’t encourage watching television to relax, but instead reading a book or listening to music.
Maintaining a healthy diet and getting enough sleep will also help those suffering from SAD.
Tan said all of the aspects are connected.
“People sleep better when they exercise during the day or get outside,” she said.
Corsi also said remaining active is the key to overcoming the “winter blues.”
“The great thing about staying active is that it’s going to promote good sleep and eating habits,” he said.
Corsi recommends volunteering in the community as well.
“Look outside yourself for someone you can help,” he said. “One of the best ways to get out of a downward spiral mood is to help someone else.”
Try volunteering at the food basket, visiting someone at the local retirement centers or spending time with a lonely neighbor.
Light therapy can also help reduce winter depression, Tan said.
One may, however, need to seek outside help depending on the level of depression, she said.
“If one has more serious issues or the depression doesn’t lift, then that’s more of a clinical depression and seeking outside help is important.”
Corsi said the last thing people want to do is become disconnected from family and friends.
“When people socially withdraw and isolate themselves and begin to reduce the activities that they enjoy those are sure signs of pending trouble,” he said. “I encourage them to go and see someone whether that’s a therapist, doctor or clergy member.”
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