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Break the Winter Blues

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    NEWSLETTERS

    With storm after storm pummelling the region, many people are suffering from the winter blues. A psychologist explains what is behind the symptoms of sadness and how to combat those feelings. (Published Wednesday, Feb 12, 2014)

    Many people often experience feelings of sadness and fatigue during the winter season and this year is likely no exception.

    Dr. Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University, and Dr. Sachin Mehta, Belmont Behavioral Health's medical director of mood disorders, explain why storm after storm could be exasperating symptoms of depression and what to do to break the blues.

    Q: Why does the winter weather make me feel down?
    Dr. Sachin Mehta: During the winter people are exposed to less sunlight, which typically aids in melatonin production. That absence could contribute to feelings of fatigue and sadness.
    Dr. Frank Farley: The cold temperatures and snowy streets that keep people stuck indoors can exacerbate those symptoms. You feel claustrophobic, your options seem diminished. It's old-fashioned cabin-fever.

    Q: Could the onslaught of storms make the winter blues even worse?
    FF: Some people won't be able to cope. Particularly if the last storm took out your power, which is so crucial to modern survival. That kind of relentless stress challenges you.

    Q: Is there anything I can do to avoid these feelings in the first place?
    FF: Planning is very important and can be like an antidote to anxiety and stress. Get whatever you might need to survive in your household for three or four days, whether that is food, extra warm clothing, or even a generator to backup your power.
    SM: You can also pick up some over-the-counter vitamin D to help alleviate symptoms.

    Q: What about during the storm?
    SM:  Some kind of exercise, even if it is inside, can improve the way you feel. If you have stairs, go up and down them a few times. If you can access YouTube, you could find yoga or meditation videos that could help counter irritability. Open your blinds and work near a window so you get some sunshine. And we always recommend people avoid isolation. Go to your religious institution or even a mall - any place you can socialize with others is helpful.
    FF: Engineer some family time by playing games indoors and, if conditions are safe, make it a classic snow day by sledding or having a snowball fight. Strengthen your generosity muscle by offering to help an elderly neighbor. Be social if you can.

    Q: What if my feelings of sadness don't go away?
    FF: If it interferes with your functioning, your sleep and diet, you should seek professional help.
    SM: You can contact the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the behavioral health division of your neighborhood hospital.