By Col. Deborah B. GraysFebruary 18, 2010
Fort McPherson & Fort Gillem
For months we've been enduring shortened hours of daylight and colder temperatures.
The past few weeks have given us prolonged periods of rain and several bouts of snow.
And the first day of spring is still a full month away. It's enough to give you the blahs. You're not alone.
About 90 percent of us are affected by winter, and about 25 percent suffer from "winter blues" or the more serious Seasonal Affective Disorder (a type of depression triggered by the change in seasons).
Seasonal changes affect our energy levels, sociability, sleep patterns, appetite and weight gain, affecting us personally and professionally.
These issues can last from a few days to throughout the winter season.
Anyone of any age can suffer from seasonal changes, although the problem is about four times more common among women than men, with a higher incidence occurring during the young adult years.
This time of year, we tend to feel more lethargic and tired, going into a form of energy hibernation where life can seem like a chore and we begin to identify more with a "couch potato."
We find our concentration wavering and realize we're having difficulty finishing tasks.
While winter may seem like it will never end, there are several things we can do to lessen its affect as we await spring.
One way to beat the blahs is to enjoy the sunlight we do get.
Brighter, more intense light leads to an improvement in mood, energy levels, work and social relationships, sleep and appetite.
If the natural light isn't enough to help boost your energy, consider buying a light box. Using a light box providing up to 10,000 lux for at least 20 minutes as early as possible in the morning can complement the benefits you receive from natural light. It's also important not to indulge in your winter cravings.
While the short-term affects may seem positive, in the long run, indulging so usually makes things worse.
Aca,!AcStudies show that normal sleep hours - eight or nine per day - produce better sleep and more energy than adding naps or sleeping longer.
Aca,!AcExercising instead of hibernating produces more positive energy, especially if you exercise outdoors in the light. One hour of aerobic exercise outside (even when it's cloudy) has the same therapeutic effects as 2.5 hours of light treatment indoors. If it's too cold, rainy, snowy or otherwise bad to exercise outdoors, workout inside, even if you're just enjoying a 2-mile-an-hour walk on a treadmill or are walking through the halls and up and down the stairs of your house or building. Do something, anything.
Aca,!AcIndulging in cravings for carbohydrates may produce an initial sugar spike and happy feeling, but it's usually quickly followed by a drop in energy, resulting in more cravings for comfort food. This natural tendency to eat more sweets and high-starch foods is why so many people gain winter weight.
Aca,!AcWhile we tend to withdraw from friendships, Family and social events more in the winter, maintaining social relationships helps keep us positive and provides us protection against the negative effects of the season. Feeling better can be as simple as surrounding yourself with color.
To uplift your spirits, think about decorating your surroundings or wearing clothes in colors reflecting the sun - the warm colors of red, orange and yellow.
These colors evoke the images of fire and heat, enhancing feelings of warmth and happiness.
Take seasonal issues seriously.
Depression and a lack of energy caused by winter blues can lower your immune system, exposing you to colds or incidents of the flu.
Of course, if you feel hopeless or are suffering from severe or prolonged bouts of depression, exhaustion or a host of other problems, seek medical attention. Only a doctor can determine whether you're suffering from "the blues" or if the exhaustion or depression you're feeling is caused by other medical conditions.
While Punxsutawney Phil may have seen his shadow on Groundhog Day, dooming Pennsylvanians to six more weeks of winter, Atlanta's Gen. Beauregard Lee did not see his shadow, forecasting an early spring for us in the South. Our end to winter weather is in sight ... make sure you're doing all you can to ensure you are at your best for the remainder of the season, and always.