Growing up in the Louisville area I never considered how the weather affected my mood or productivity. It wasn’t until I moved back from Albuquerque, which averages sunshine 278 days per year, after two winters that I realized how much better I feel when I see the sun on a regular basis (1). Since deciding Louisville would be my home in 2004, days with sunshine average 195, I have sought ways to supplement my affinity for our closest star (2). Besides no feeling alone by knowing other people suffer from the occasional “winter blues,” between 1.4% in high sunshine states to 9.7% in northern states, research has shown sub-clinical Seasonal Affective Disorders (S.A.D.) can be lessened or effectively managed with several easy to implement behaviors (3). The article covers the effectiveness of many behaviors, everything from supplements to prayer, and examines how the treatment effects both sub-clinical and clinical depression. Given the breadth of information I’ll cover a few of free and low cost treatments in this article, if you want to read the full article a link is located at the bottom of the page.
One of the best recommendations for mental wellbeing and health in general is to exercise regularly, both aerobic (cardio) and anaerobic (weights) work. You don’t even have to go to gym or do strenuous workouts to ward off the mental doldrums; just a 20 minute stroll around the block can be helpful. Since I started walking to lunch most days, barring time restrictions or inclement weather, I notice feel energized from getting outside and if my phone app is accurate I burn almost 250 calories by walking 30 minutes. If you don’t have the time during your lunch break or a gym membership there are countless exercise shows on the television or the internet.
Speaking of the internet, exposing yourself to things you find humorous can be good for your mental well-being. It could be funny animal pictures, your favorite comedian, or a goofy video on Youtube, but laughing helps. If you need to give someone an excuse you can say it’s science! Exercise and laughing are both low-tech and inexpensive ways to take care of yourself, the next two suggestions are not much of a time expenditure, but do involve a financial investment.
The first is a treatment that has garnered coverage by both The New York Times and NPR, light therapy. Light therapy isn’t just sitting under florescent bulbs, but a special bulb that mimics the benefits we get from sunlight. A quick search on Amazon indicates that therapeutic lights range in price from $40-$175. The Center for Environmental Therapeutics is an organization that provides information to help you determine what type of light and the time of day light therapy would best treat your symptoms, their website also provides other resources related to mental health needs. Another treatment mentioned for S.A.D. that involves a financial investment is massage. Massage therapy has been a well-documented support for clinical depression and anxiety so its ability to ease seasonal depression is not surprising.
I hope these suggestions are helpful to you or someone you know, but if you suffer from the occasional “winter blues” and these ideas do not ease your symptoms please seek professional help. Last month’s article mentioned I would be reevaluating the focus of this column and I’ve decided to continue in a similar vein except I will include more of a focus on resources in the community. My first community focused article of 2014 will be an interview with local herbalist Myron Hardesty about his new project, “The Underground Herb Clinic.” As I wrap up this article the constant hum of the heater reminds me it is -9%, I hope you are warm and having a good New Year. For questions, leads on community resources, or anything else email me,Jamagn01@gmail.com.