Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Fight Back Against the Winter Doldrums!

          It’s often been speculated that February was the month when most suicides are committed. Now, that’s a cheerful thought – not! While it has been shown statistically that this isn’t true (with most suicides occurring in the spring), there does seem to be increased levels of depression, especially among senior citizens, during the winter months. I’m not a researcher in this subject, and perhaps I’m only using my own straw poll to make that assessment.

          The holidays are over, no more abundant visits with friends coupled with excessive food and drink. It’s back to the grind at work, and exercise and veggies. No more almond roca until your teeth hurt or a glass of wine every night instead of once in awhile. It’s grey outside and the weather often keeps us cooped up for days on end. In fact, during this month we tend to eat and drink more than in previous months and sleep lots more, all of which can escalate depression.

          All the trees are bare and our yards, be they tiny patios like mine or expansive yards enjoyed by the myriad kids, grandkids and pets, are bleak. I have a lovely gingko tree that I planted a few years back, and it gives me great joy as I gaze upon it from my living room. However, practically overnight, all its leaves are gone. The Japanese maples start thinning out and by this time, they are looking pretty twiggy and lifeless. The chilling weather and the lack of pleasing visual surroundings are pervasive on our psyche. I believe the shorter grey days create a physiological response in our bodies during this time of year. It can wear on the upbeat approach to life making everything seem less exciting and less worth endeavoring. It’s hitting the snooze button magnified 1,000 percent.

          What to do? You can bet I’m going to say meditating should be at the top of any list of possible remedies to the winter doldrums. Let’s face it, meditating is easy to do, cheap and doesn’t take a lot of time. It’s the perfect panacea to much of what ails us in life, be you a senior citizen or not.

          There are lots of other things one can do to fight back the lethargy and depression of dark winter months. Some of these items are costly and time consuming and others, like meditation, are not.

          When I lived in Bodega Bay and worked along with my first husband, Art, at the Marine Laboratory, we could go for weeks in the middle of summer and never see the sun. The hotter it was inland, the more a dense layer of sun-blocking fog would hang out all along the coast. I travelled to Santa Rosa routinely, so I could soak up the warming rays of sun. Art, however, was greatly affected by the lack of sun for days on end. This form of depression, called Seasonal Affective Disorder, can be quite debilitating. He would have to go inland every couple of days to let the sun permeate his body and mind.

          One remedy to this disorder is light therapy, which requires a special light and light box or a visit to a depression specialist. This is the extreme, I think. If you experience any form of depression in February or anytime, for that matter, it’s best to get educated and decide what works best for you. Along with meditating, of course!

          Some of these counterbalances to depression include exercise (no surprise there), massage, therapy, increasing omega 3’s in the diet, eating better in general and social support. I’ve heard also that consuming more coffee can be beneficial for depression, but I’m not touching the possible benefits of that habit here.

          The easiest and cheapest method for me if I’m feeling a little down – aside from the omnipresent meditating – is social support. Many people agree it’s one of the most effective ways to ward off the doldrums. At first, you may have to force yourself to go out or to seek the company of others when you least feel like it. There is one minor caveat to social support and that is beware:  depression can cause you to feel hypersensitive to perceived social slights. Try not to overreact when others do or say something that feels offensive. I tend to overreaction, so this is a good reminder for me.

          One last thing I do for myself is print out a few pictures of my garden in the summer and post them around my office. When I see these summer pictures I can quickly remember the feel of the sun on my back as I sit on my bench. These pictures remind me that once again, in just a couple months, I’ll be able to fill my lungs with the smell of photosynthesis and all will be right with the world.

          Join me. Let's fight back against the winter doldrums this year!

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