Ever since “Snowvember,” the weather this winter in Western New York has had few breaks from the snow and cold. If you are feeling as if the walls are closing in on you, you are not alone.
The term commonly used for this feeling is “Cabin Fever,” though health professionals have actually recognized it as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Typical symptoms of SAD include feeling sad, hopeless, worthless, helpless, irritable, restless, disinterested in activities you formerly enjoyed, difficulty concentrating, difficulty making decisions, disturbed sleep patterns, weight gain or loss, and sometimes thoughts of death or suicide.
If you suffer from these symptoms even just a little, it is reassuring to know that there is hope, and there are lifestyle changes you can make to get through it. Some helpful things to try are:
- Exercise. Take a walk to the gym, or do calisthenics in your dorm room. Park on the far side of the lot, and walk the extra distance. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Or take up a winter sport, like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or sledding.
- Fresh air. Yes, you will have to bundle up right now. But a dose of fresh air can lift your spirits. Besides, who knows what the air quality is inside those walls in which windows have not been opened for months.
- Sunshine. Besides improving our moods, sunshine actually has a reaction with your skin that produces vitamin D. Studies show that vitamin D could lessen the symptoms of depression.
- Vitamin D. If you can’t find any sunny rooms in which to hang out, or if it’s cloudy out, you can supplement with vitamin D. But, since vitamin D is absorbed by fat and is stored in your body, you may want to consult your doctor before taking large doses. The best bet is to add food rich in vitamin D to your diet. Some foods that have vitamin D are salmon, swordfish, mackerel, tuna, sardines, egg yolk, beef liver, and fortified cereal and milk.
- Proper nutrition. Skip the pop and the junk food, and opt for some fresh veggies and a lean piece of meat. Add vitamin D fortified milk (see above) and some whole grains, and you will feel human again.
- Hydration. Even though you are not sweating a lot, as you do during the hot summer weather, drinking enough H2O is actually energizing, plus it helps combat the dry winter air.
- Sleep. Make sure you are getting the right amount of this. Seven to nine hours of sleep at the same time every night does wonders for the mood.
- Socialization. Yes, you need this. Go to church. Hang out with your friends. Go on a date. Take an elective class. Just don’t spend too much time alone. Be selective, and choose positive people.
- Light therapy. Because of the shortened daylight hours in the winter, some people do well with light therapy. If you think you would like to try it, ask your doctor to recommend a treatment.
- Talk therapy. Go talk to someone who is trained to help walk you through. Sometimes having an expert there to hold your hand is just what you need. (At Hilbert College, that expert is Psychologist Phyllis Dewey, who is located in St. Joseph Hall. Phyllis is eager to help all students with this and any other issues that crop up.)
- Antidepressants. These should be used only as a last resort after you have made the above lifestyle changes. There is no “happy” pill. Antidepressant medication has side-effects that are, well, depressing! However, some people do show improvement on these drugs.
The idea to take away from this blog is there is always hope. Plus, remember that spring is only five weeks away!
For more information on Seasonal Affective Disorder, click on these links: