If you’re a fan of the Game of Thrones books by George R.R. Martin, you’ll recognize “Winter is Coming” as the motto of the House of Starks. As Lords of the North, they know that they have to be ready for the hardships winter will bring. For those of us in the real world, our hardships might include colder temperatures, snow and a lot less sunshine. This change in our environment can cause us to feel down, or depressed, sometimes so much that our quality of life can be affected. This change in mood is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
Symptoms of SAD may include:
- Increased appetite with weight gain
- Loss of interest in work or other activities
- Less energy and ability to concentrate
- Unhappiness and irritability
- Increased sleep
- Sluggish movements
- Social withdrawal
Instead of hibernating this winter, take action to lessen the impact that SAD has had on you in the past. Consider these great suggestions by Alex Orlov, a writer for Life by DailyBurn, in his article, “9 Ways To Cope With Seasonal Affective Disorder:”
1. Soak up morning sunshine.
According to Kalayjian, winter blues will be worst in the mornings when you’re rousing yourself from bed. She tells clients to open curtains as much as possible to get exposure to natural light right when the body is waking up.
2. Maintain your routine.
“The most helpful thing is to try to keep up everyday activities,” says Rohan. Once daylight savings time occurs, don’t neglect your favorite hobbies just because winter spurs an impulse to hibernate. You’ll feel better knowing you’re still making it to your weekly book club, basketball game or brunch with friends.
3. Work it out.
During a killer gym session, the brain works hard to override the temporary feelings of discomfort by telling the body to keep pushing. You’ll naturally release endorphins, which will make you feel happier and even euphoric. A meta-review published in the American College of Sports Medicine Journal in 2013 suggested that, for some individuals, exercise might be comparable to therapy or anti-depressants as an effective treatment for depression.
4. Flip a switch.
Research suggests that light boxes can help up to 50 percent of people who suffer from SAD. The bright light emitted from these devices helps the body awaken in the morning and decreases the hormone melatonin that keeps us asleep at night. And for those seeking a quick fix: Studies show that light therapy can spur a mood lift in just several days. “Based on the literature, [light therapy] is a very effective treatment,” says Rohan. However, since the FDA does not regulate light boxes, she recommends consumers pursue light therapy under the supervision of a professional. “It takes some trial and error to get it just right,” she says, emphasizing that timing, positioning and potential side effects should all be discussed with an expert before you begin treatment.
5. Ditch the sugar.
It’s common knowledge that too much of the sugary stuff will make us gain weight and puts us at risk for developing diabetes and certain cancers. And research shows that sugar has a sour effect on mental health, too. Countries that consume the most sugar have higher rates of depression, and scientists hypothesize that it hinders the body’s ability to cope with stress and can worsen anxiety. Many people crave sweet and starchy foods in the wintertime because they provide a temporary energy boost, but these treats will ultimately leave you just as sluggish as before. Instead, opt for eating complete meals with good sources of protein and fiber.
6. Get outside.
Both Rohan and Kalayjian recommend breathing in some fresh air each day. Studies confirm that spending time outside can relieve stress, so bundle up and brave the cold for at least five minutes to lift your spirits. “It turns out that going for a walk in the morning after sunrise can be especially effective,” says Rohan. “It gets light to the retina, but it’s also physical activity.” Two birds, one stone!
7. Develop wintertime interests.
Bummed that you can’t play beach volleyball every weekend? Rohan recommends finding substitutes for the mood-enhancing activities you enjoy in the summer. “Having fun is central to having a good mood,” she says. “What are things to do in winter that are fun to do?” Strap on some snowshoes, check out a new fitness class, take a spin on an ice rink or step up your game in the kitchen — you just might find a new passion.
8. Practice relaxation.
Some down dog could help you get out of the dumps. Practicing yoga, studies show,can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Plus, preliminary research on meditation reveals that breathing exercises and mindfulness exercises can actuallychange neural networks and decrease stress. Kalayjian also recommends progressive relaxation, a technique that promotes body awareness by tensing and relaxing muscle groups throughout the body.
9. Book a trip.
Prepare for takeoff, because quality vacation time will certainly boost your mood. Those that suffer from seasonal depression will benefit from additional sunshine if they head south, but taking a break from work is important for anyone’s mental health. Studies show that people even experience pleasure from anticipating trips. “Across the board, SAD patients will tell you they feel better [after vacation],” says Rohan. But she cautions against depending on getaways for happiness. “I think it’s important to learn to tolerate the place where you live instead of jumping on a plane.” While you count down the days ’til your beach holiday, find ways to get joyous about the winter wonderland in your own backyard. (See full article here.)
Winter is coming. Be Ready!
Martin, George R.R. Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam Books, 1996. Print.
Up until I hit about 30 years old, I was not much on physical fitness. I really didn’t have much trouble with gaining too much weight, or feeling like I had a real weight problem (meaning, I felt like I might be happy to lose 5 lbs, but didn’t feel motivated to do so since I was at a normal weight). I ate pretty much what I wanted to and stayed at the same size. That is, until I gave birth to my first child.
I didn’t gain over 28 lbs with that pregnancy, but I didn’t lose the last 8lbs before getting pregnant with my second. With him, I gained 33 lbs and was at a high weight (for me), 164 lbs, about 40 lbs over my normal weight. I didn’t like my body at that weight, my clothes didn’t fit, and I was going to have to actually work to get the weight off.
My 10 year anniversary celebration was the same year I gave birth to my second. We planned on going on a cruise that October, so I had to lose about 20 lbs before that. I had managed to get down to about 145 naturally. I began exercising at 6 weeks postpartum, right after my check up, doing some aerobic exercise video tapes (Jane Fonda, I think!) with a friend. I weaned my son from breastfeeding at the end of July; I planned on restricting my calorie intact and knew this wasn’t a good idea while nursing. I had decided that running was the easiest and cheapest way to exercise and lose weight. I only needed shorts, t-shirt, socks and running shoes. No gym membership required!
My first time out, my goal was to keep going for 15 minutes, walking or running. I found I could only jog for about 2 minutes before getting out of breath (did I mention I had 5 weeks of bedrest with both pregnancies? Yeah.) Slowly, over the course of 3 weeks, I was finally able to jog for the entire 15 minutes!
In the meantime, I was using the Slim Fast plan as my eating plan. I added in some extra carb calories (maybe 200-300) to keep hunger at bay. The pounds started coming off and this inspired me to keep going. Instead of emphasizing how far I went on my runs, I went by minutes. After I made it jogging straight for 15 minutes, the next week, I went 17 minutes three days that week. The next week, it was 19 minutes for three days, and so on, until I was able to jog without stopping for 30 minutes. After that, I actually started taking my car out after my runs to clock the mileage (oh, the days before affordable GPS!)
When my husband and I left for our cruise, I had gotten back down to about 125, my pre-pregnancy weight. I hadn’t seen that number for about two and a half years and I really felt great! Our trip was fantastic and we had a memorable anniversary. After we got back home, I continued with my running. The next year, I decided that maybe a marathon wasn’t a crazy lunatic idea after all, and decided to train for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. I had a great running buddy, Dianne, who would run part of my long runs with me, then bike beside me (and around me) as I finished up my mileage. I was following the training schedule in Jeff Galloway’s Book on Running for a 4 hour marathon finish time. I highly recommend his book. I finished my first marathon in 4 hours, 14 minutes and 19 seconds, a little off my goal, but I finished!!
I’m telling my story to you because I really didn’t believe that I could ever be a runner. A marathon sounded like an incredible feat of physical endurance that only crazy people wanted to accomplish. I didn’t like running (it hurt), I wasn’t athletic (I quit track in junior high because one girl was faster than me). After that first marathon, I would look back and think about the years before my kids were born, all the time I wasted that I could have been so involved in a running club! Runners are fun people, they’re nice, they encourage each other. You’re making an effort to be healthy, races usually raise money for a good cause, having a race as a goal keeps you motivated to get out there and train.
If you’re looking for something to get into, don’t want to spend a lot of money and are willing to put the time in, I would encourage you to try running. Even if you have to walk/run like I did, get out there. Time spent moving your body will reap rewards in lower cholesterol, lower blood sugars, muscle building and fat loss. It’s amazing, too, the psychological benefits of knowing that you can run a mile without stopping.
So, that’s my story of how I got started with my running. If I could do it, you can, too. Let your stubborn, willful self take over and get you out the door. You can do it. No think about it.
Have you been told that your blood pressure is a little high? Maybe you’ve been given a blood pressure medicine by your healthcare provider, but you’ve resisted taking it. The most common thing I hear is, “I don’t want to have to take a medicine every day.” So what lifestyle changes could you try to keep from taking a medicine for your blood pressure?
Besides getting at least an hour and a half of exercise in per week and losing weight, cutting back on your salt intake could make a difference. Salt may make our food taste better, but too much can have bad effects on our health. It can raise blood pressure, make the kidneys work harder, cause swelling in the tissues, and make us at higher risk for heart disease. Educating yourself on the foods that have more salt than others may help you lower your intake of salt by making better choices.
Foods that are typically higher is sodium are
- Fast foods,
- Canned foods,
- Frozen meals,
- Snack foods like chips, pretzels, crackers and nuts,
- Marinades and flavorings, especially Teriyaki sauce and Soy Sauce, and
- Packaged deli meat.
Read the nutrition label for how much sodium per serving a product contains and how many servings are in the container or package to see how much sodium you’re taking in when eating the above types of food. It might be an eye-opener!
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2300 mg a day of sodium for most people. For those age 51 years and older, and those of any age, including children, who are
- African American (more salt sensitive than other races) or
- have high blood pressure,
- diabetes, or
- chronic kidney disease,
should limit their intake to 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
Sometimes, even with lifestyle changes, you may still need a blood pressure medicine; family history can play a strong role in whether you’ll develop it. I’m usually willing to allow my patients at least 3 months of lifestyle changes before putting them on a medicine. So–get out there and exercise, drop a few pounds, and cut back on your salt! ¡Salud!