by Darcy F. Wallen, LCSW, ACSW
Blue skies smiling at me, nothing but blue skies, do I see… Irving Berlin
Did you know that gray weather causes some people’s poor moods to get even worse? Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is more prevalent in our region, where the sun shines less than it does in regions closer to the equator. So, what’s a wintry Western New Yorker to do?
While most of us thankfully, do not have SAD, living in a cold climate with grey skies can have adverse effects even on those who are upbeat. Although many energetic people enjoy winter sports like skiing, tobogganing, and snowboarding, when the weather is cold or dreary, many of us avoid going outside altogether. Many people are not able to remain outdoors for extended periods of time. For others, simple tasks like getting up and out of bed for work and other responsibilities are more difficult at this time of year.
When feeling heroic, we can be in control of these feelings of “heaviness.” Often, however, we are weak and swept into the sedentary vortex. Many people actually become heavier during these months because of diminished physical activity and indoor “hibernation” behaviors, including eating comfort foods. If you feel down, and a bit immobilized, there are things you can do to combat wintry-grey inertia. Try some of these (which are also recommended for our SAD friends):
· Get outside, even if just for a five to ten minute walk.
· Pick another time of day for physical exercise, even if only gentle stretching or doing the stairs.
· Be around good friends, people who are upbeat and, if necessary, speak with a therapist or clergy member.
· If you tend to get into scheduling ruts, change your routine.
· Supplements (with professional guidance) such as: Omega 3 fish oils, Vitamin D3, (that gets depleted during the less sunny months along with our mood-regulating neurotransmitters – serotonin and melatonin), and certain herbs can do wonders for our moods and immune system.
· Eat healthy, nutritious foods, and avoid “comfort” foods that may cause tiredness. Some people are sensitive to “white” foods, such as white noodles, white potatoes, and white rice which can cause tiredness and mood fluctuations.
· Try singing (and more particularly, humming), which is beneficial for your mood and immune system. Google “Benefits of humming” and you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
· Try mindfulness and other mental exercises below to help change negative thought patterns to more positive ones, to “shift” your focus from “winter blues” to “bluer skies.”
Try these Mindfulness Exercises
· Sit quietly, paying attention to your breath and sensations accompanying it, when your mind wanders to a thought, gently redirect it to focus on your breath again. Try doing this for 3-5 minutes daily.
· In addition to focusing on your breath in the “formal” exercise above, try to become more mindful in your day-to-day activities. Mindfulness is a state of mind where you stay focused on what you are currently experiencing. For instance, if you are fully present, you are not worrying about past or future events. You have no judgments about anything; you are just observing. You are practicing staying with and experiencing this very “precious” moment. You may want to explore this more in the book The Precious Present by Spencer Johnson, M.D.
· Again, sitting quietly, come up with a pleasant, “safe place” in your mind. Try to describe it to yourself as you “draw it” in your mind’s eye. Imagine it with as many senses as you can. For instance: A person’s safe place might be sitting on a warm stone in a meadow on a warm sunny day. You might see the beautiful colors of the grass, trees, sky, flowers, smell the fragrance of the plants, trees, flowers, feel the warm breeze against your neck and the warmth of the sun on your cheeks. You may hear the wind through the trees, or the sound of the birds chirping, or even taste a sweet but tart wild strawberry you just picked.
About the Author:
Darcy F. Wallen, ACSW, LCSW is a psychotherapist, educator, motivational entertainer, and composer living in Amherst, New York. In addition to her private therapy practice, she offers trainings to groups and individuals. For free downloads of mindfulness exercises contact Darcy at Rusdcsw@aol.com and listen to her music at www.reverbnation.com/rdwallen.