We’ve officially entered the hard months, the “dark ages” as the midshipmen at the Naval Academy say: the time of the year when the sun disappears and the pale complexions of your friends remind you that you had better take your vitamins or else you’ll have a cold to go with your pasty look.
I dread winter each year because many of my depression busters require sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s. What does a girl who gardens and hikes the hills to maintain sanity do in the winter? Lots of things. Here are a few of them compliments of Therese Borchard, author of “Beyond Blue:Surviving Depression and Anxiety.”
1. Watch the sugar.
I think our body gets the cue just before Thanksgiving that it will be hibernating for a few months, so it needs to ingest everything edible in sight. And I’m convinced the snow somehow communicates to the human brain the need to consume every kind of white stuff and chocolate available in the house.
Depressives and addicts need to be especially careful with sweets because the addiction to sugar and white-flour products is very real and physiological, affecting the same biochemical systems in your body as other drugs like heroin. According to Kathleen DesMaisons, author of “Potatoes Not Prozac”: Your relationship to sweet things is operating on a cellular level. It is more powerful than you have realized….What you eat can have a huge effect on how you feel.”
2. Stock up on Omega-3’s.
During the winter I’m religious about stocking in my medicine cabinet a Noah’s Ark supply of Omega-3 capsules because leading physicians at Harvard Medical School confirmed the positive effects of this natural, anti-inflammatory molecule on emotional health. I treat my brain like royalty–hoping that it will be kind to me in return–so I fork over about $30 a month for the Mac Daddy of the Omega-3s, capsules that contain 70 percent EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid). One 500mg softgel capsule meets the doctor-formulated 7:1 EPA to DHA ratio, needed to elevate and stabilize mood.
3. Give back.
Gandhi once wrote that “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Positive psychologists like University of Pennsylvania’s Martin Seligman and Dan Baker, Ph.D., director of the Life Enhancement Program at Canyon Ranch, believe that a sense of purpose–committing oneself to a noble mission–and acts of altruism are strong antidotes to depression.
4. Join the gym.
Don’t let the cold weather be an excuse not to sweat. We have centers today called “gyms” where people exercise inside! Granted, it’s not the same–watching the news or listening to the soundtrack from “Rocky” as you run in place as opposed to jogging along wooded paths with a view of the bay. But you accomplish the goal: a heart rate over 140 beats a minute.
5. Wear bright colors.
I have no research supporting this theory, but I’m quite convinced there is a link between feeling optimistic and sporting bright colors. It’s in line with “faking it ’til you make it,” desperate attempts to trick your brain into thinking that it’s sunny and beautiful outside–time to celebrate Spring!–even though it’s a blizzard with sleet causing some major traffic jams.
Personally, I tend to wear black everyday in the winter. It’s supposed to make you look thinner. But the result is that I appear as if and feel like I’m going to a funeral every afternoon between the months of November and March. This isn’t good. Not for a person hardwired to stress and worry and get depressed when it’s cold. So I make a conscious effort to wear bright purple, blue, and pink, and sometimes–if I’m in a rush–all of them together!
7. Hang out with friends.
This seems like an obvious depression buster. Of course you get together with your buddies when your mood starts to go south. But that’s exactly when many of us tend to isolate. I believe that it takes a village to keep a person sane and happy. That’s why we need so many support groups today. People need to be validated and encouraged and inspired by persons on the same journey. And with all the technology today, folks don’t even have to throw on their slippers to get to a support group. Online communities provide a village of friendship right at your computer.
8. Take up a project.
There’s no time like winter to start a home project, like decluttering the house or purging all the old clothes in your kids’ closets. When a friend of mine was going through a tough time, she painted her entire house–every room downstairs with two different colors. And it looked professional! Not only did it help distract her from her problems, but it provided her with a sense of accomplishment that she desperately needed those months, something to feel good about as she saw other things crumble around her. Projects like organizing bookshelves, shredding old tax returns, and cleaning out the garage are perfect activities for the dreary months of the year.
I had a ball yesterday – I built a make-shift fire pit our back and burned old bank statements and credit card bills. I suspect I have pyromanic tendencies because this gave me immense pleasure! You’d best be very careful – this practice may be in violation of local codes. Had I been caught, I would have pleaded ignorance – which no one doubts anyway.
9. Challenge yourself.
My mood can often be lifted by meeting a new challenge–an activity that is formidable enough to keep my attention, but easy enough to do when my brain is muddied. Training for the half marathon in April has been a life saver and I’m hoping a new addiction. I can’t tell you how high I get on our “long day” – this past Sunday we did seven miles which were murder. But once done, I was on a high like none I’ve felt before.
10. Light a candle.
If I counted up all the minutes I’ve spent staring into a flame, I wonder how many years of my life that would be. Certainly more than the hours I’ve spent brushing my teeth or combing my hair. It would probably even surpass the combination of bath and shower time. But I just feel better if I stick my face in a hot glowing body of flame.