Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
By Jamie Lober
If you are dealing with the winter blues, you are not alone.
“Some people are sensitive to the seasonal fluctuation. You have to add on top of that, the effect of the season on someone’s life,” Dr. Carl Hindy, psychologist at Hindy and Associates in Nashua, said.
What may be stressful for one person may be viewed as wonderful by someone else. “There are people who look forward to the winter and cannot wait to be skiing and running their snowmobile. Others who do not have those interests for the winter may end up more shut in and less physically active, which can be related to depression,” Hindy said.
Before you make a plan, you should acknowledge if you are suffering from the winter blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder.
“The symptoms are varied, but often include difficulty concentrating, irritability, periods or bouts of anger, rapid mood changes, changes in sleep patterns like sleeping too much or not much at all and being angry,” Dr. William Flynn, psychologist and director at Merrimack Valley Counseling in Nashua, said.
Seasonal Affective Disorder comes from an imbalance in your brain’s chemistry.
“It results from lowering of serotonin at this time of year. Serotonin is produced through sunlight and vitamin D. Once we reduce vitamin D, it is a chemical process and there is not a lot of serotonin flowing through the neuronal pathways. As a result, people get down because of the imbalance,” Flynn said.
The weather may affect you. “This is the result of the lack of exposure to sunlight in the wintertime, because not only are the days much shorter but the spectrum of light is not quite as intense, Kendall Snow, social worker at Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester, said.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is different from regular depression. “The main feature that differentiates it is that it is strictly a seasonal issue and in the spring and summer, these patients have normal activity levels, normal mood and feel cheerful and inspired,” Dr. Sally Abdulla of Epsom Family Medicine said.
So what can you do to beat the blues? Put on a comfortable coat and get moving. “The greatest thing I can tell folks to do is they need to get outside and be active. The more active you are, the less prone you are to depression,” Dr. Lawrence Kelly, psychologist at Manchester Psychological Associates, said. If you do not like being outside, try walking at the shopping center.
“Exercise is as efficacious as any kind of medicine. Studies have found that it is as effective as Prozac and Paxil. Three times a week for 45 minutes will be as effective as any antidepressant,” Kelly said.
If you do not enjoy cold weather activities, leave the climate behind you.
“One way of getting more sunlight is to take a winter vacation away from the dark areas of the northeast like to Florida or the Caribbean. A week away will help quite a bit,” Kelly said. If traveling is not an option for your family, find ways to make the season more tolerable.
“Set goals and projects you want to accomplish in the winter like joining a bowling league or taking dance or cooking lessons,” Hindy said. This will ultimately alter your mindset. “Look forward to things rather than expecting the negative for winter. Having expectations that are negative makes it worse and depressing to think about,” Hindy said.
Make a difference in your community. “A really good antidepressant is doing something for other people such as volunteering at the soup kitchen or going out with Salvation Army. The more you do for people, the less prone you are to be isolated and depressed,” Kelly said.
Find activities that you like. “After doing things you enjoy, you feel some sense of achievement, success or positive reaction from other people. People need to have things they feel they are good at because it rejuvenates them and helps them have some sense of being appreciated by the people around them,” Dr. Richard High, psychologist at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, said.
Use positive affirmations. “Say over and over again the positive things that are in your life and the things you are thankful for,” Kelly said. Talk therapy can also be helpful.
“You should talk about why you are depressed and discuss ways that you can use your process of thinking about your stressors to reduce them,” Flynn said. It is important to find stress reduction techniques that work for you whether it is massage, reading or yoga. “Stress leads to anxiety and then people become depressed because they try to cope and cannot,” Flynn said.
Get connected with others and avoid being alone. “If you do not have anybody to be with, try to go out someplace where there are a lot of people because it tends to help,” Dr. Mel Kimmel, a psychologist in Nashua, said. Take time out to breathe. “Holding a deep breath and letting the air out can do a lot to relax you,” Snow said.
Nutrition and lifestyle choices matter. “You want the B complex vitamins, adequate vitamin D and calcium. You should also have a regular sleep and wake schedule so you go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday,” Abdulla said.
Light therapy is an effective choice. “The person is asked to sit in front of a wide spectrum light on a daily basis for half an hour. It makes a difference within a week,” High said. The cost is usually around $200 and the light box can be purchased at a pharmacy or on the Web. “It activates the brain to produce a little more of the neurotransmitters that fight depression,” High said.
Sometimes medication like an antidepressant is necessary. “Having depression six months of the year is a pretty debilitating thing and deserves to be looked at carefully,” High said. You must see a mental health professional for a formal diagnosis. Remember Seasonal Affective Disorder goes away with the change of seasons, but it is still important to get help and not ignore symptoms.
“Researchers feel that patients respond best to a low dose of the light sensitive hormone melatonin in the afternoon and bright light in the morning,” Claudia Ferber, director of child and family programs at National Alliance on Mental Illness in Concord, said.
Remember you need to be proactive to fight the winter blues and win.
“You should think of going to a counselor with the same frame of mind as you think about going to a medical doctor when you are sick or to a financial counselor when you are thinking about planning your financial future. It is not something that you should be ashamed of,” High said.
Jamie Lober, author of Pink Power (http://www.getpinkpower.com), is a nationally known speaker dedicated to providing information on women’s health topics. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Last updated by Parenting NH Administrator Feb 1, 2010.