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  • Peak Seasonal Affective Disorde Time is Upon Us

    New England is one of the prettiest places to live in the country. Not only do we have mountains, and oceans, and urban living at your fingertips, we're a culinary destination, a thriving farming community, and an athlete's paradise given our four seasons. But not everyone here loves it when the days grow shorter and the temperature drops. Some people can suffer from 'Seasonal Affective Disorder' a debilitating condition which effects a much larger percent of the population than we'd think. Here's some tips to assist you in combating the grey days of Winter. 

    1. Exercise

    We’ve all heard that exercise is good for you, but when you’re feeling low, that’s easy to forget. Even 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day will help stave off depression. Take a 30-minute walk, bike ride or swim, or do chair exercises to a video, active gardening or another activity that gets your heart pumping and your body moving.

    2. Eat right

    Yes, it feels good to junk out on carbs, but that won’t help you feel energetic or raise your spirits. I tell my kids that we eat the rainbow of foods including fruits and vegetables, adequate protein, whole grains and other healthy foods. An occasional cookie is OK, too.

    3. Take Vitamin D

    I recommend 1000-2000 IU daily to my patients. Almost no one gets enough Vitamin D in a Western Washington winter. Studies have noted that depression often manifests as vitamin D levels dip during the sunless months. I always check a vitamin D level when assessing a patient with new depression symptoms. This vitamin alone isn’t a cure but it will often help depression symptoms resolve more quickly.

    4. Sleep

    In our society, we do not talk enough about the critical importance of sleep to mental health. Do all you can to get 7 1/2 -8 hrs of sleep every night. Due in part to certain hormones we release in our sleep, a solid night’s rest is also very helpful for maintaining a healthy weight.

    5. Journal

    Write your thoughts down. I tell my patients that it’s OK to shred or burn what you write after you’ve put it down on the page. You don’t have to save it for posterity. Writing down these thoughts seems to organize them and stop the hamsters in our brains from doing so much spinning.

    6. Use a light therapy box

    This mimics outdoor light. A10,000-lux lightbox can be used in the morning for 20-30 minutes to improve low mood in darker seasons.

    7. Volunteer

    Volunteering has been proven to protect against many mental health issues. It makes people feel good to help others. It often gives perspective to see what other people are facing as well. Lastly, it usually requires some form of activity and often it involves community, which are both also protective for mental health.

    8. Connect with your community

    Sometimes this is the most important act of all. When you reach out to others, you singlehandedly improve your own mental health and the health of others at the same time. Host dinner parties or game nights, and don’t let the undone laundry or layer of dust prevent you from enjoying others’ company. Invite people to holidays who don’t have anywhere else to go. Here in our area, we have many young military members and families, for instance. Many of them can’t afford to go home or cannot get the time off for the holidays, so we invite them to our house. 

    Host a play date and make fresh hot coffee for young moms. Order pizza for a group of hungry teens. Get a group together to go out for dinner or play cards. Bake cookies to take over to a new neighbor. Ask if an elderly neighbor needs help with something.

    Or join a book club or a church, take a yoga class or join a walking group.

    For most of us, taking more of these steps year-round will help our moods, and will help others, too.

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