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“When you’re down and troubled and you need a helping hand…nothing oh nothing is going right.” I have loved this song You’ve Got a Friend by James Taylor/Carole King and still recall the first time I sang it for junior high choir. Today, I still seem to be recalling this song as I walk with clients to help them prepare for the winter blues.

What are the Winter Blues?

In the most clinical terms, it’s often known as Seasonal Affect Disorder. This is a type of depression that often impacts individuals and communities with the changing of seasons. I hate to even be thinking of this since it’s technically still fall. However, as we know in Chicago, the weather is quickly changing, and our exposure to the sun is decreasing. The Mayo Clinic states, “Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may (also) trigger depression.” Change in sunlight exposure can also change our melatonin level.

This is what causes many to experience feelings of sadness, a “blah” feeling, lack of motivation to complete our daily tasks, hopelessness, and an increase in negative thoughts. In its most mild cases, you may just notice that you feel more sluggish and that the things that once sparked joy no longer do. For some, the struggle may go deeper, leading to thoughts of suicide.

So What Can You Do?

Take stock of yourself now!

How are you doing today? When reading the above description, does that sound like you? Is that something that you have ever experienced before? Does the thought of the end of the year make you want to curl up and hibernate? The other thing that I like to encourage clients to do is review their self-care practices. Take a few minutes now and complete this survey to see how you are doing. 

Make a Plan

Once you’ve figured out where you are today and how you have felt in the past, it’s important to make a plan. Your plan can be creative and specific to your needs. If you are someone who struggles with over eating when you feel down, what healthier alternative snacks can you have in your home when you have the munchies? Maybe you feel lonlier during the winter. Would visiting with family or friends once a week help? Maybe instead of texting or communicating via social media, you use a video talking platform so you can see one another.

As difficult as this might seem, find a way to keep your body moving throughout the day. Maybe the colors of winter are too dark and dreary for you. If that’s the case, wear clothes with brighter colors, or hang and maybe even create artwork that displays a more joyful mood. Use incense or candles that remind you of comfort and joy. Go for a short walk every hour. Do a 10 minute stretching video before bedtime. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. If you have access to join a gym, take advantage of it.

Our mood is so deeply impacted by our physical body. Movement can increase our Serotonin levels which impacts our low mood. Bottom line, your preparation now, can leave you feeling more empowered for the changing seasons.

Other Recommendations

Purchase a sun lamp. A sun lamp mimics the UV rays that the sun provides. They vary in cost, I found some online for $30 with a client the other day. Talk to a doctor about how long they recommend you sit under this lamp. See a doctor. Many are available and willing to help you find the right type of medication so that you can feel a moment of relief. Check out my blog post for more information on medication. Make sure to tell someone. You are not alone. Many people struggle with a lower mood due to the seasons changing.

Lastly, see a counselor! It would be an honor to share this space and time with you. Sometimes when it’s difficult to see hope yourself, you can borrow it from someone else. Call today!

Written by therapist Pamela Larkin

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