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Combating Autumn and Winter Blues - Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.)

15 things you can do to cope and feel better

With the first day of Autumn, and soon after, the changing of clocks to Daylight Savings Time, Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) sets in for many people. I admit that I was one of them! Right around the first week or two of September, as the light starts to change and mornings and evenings are cooling off, I would start thinking about the forthcoming Winter. I am a Summer person by nature-love the heat and humidity, so the onset of cooler weather and shorter days would really affect me. I did not tolerate the cold well, so that didn't help either.
While I wasn't wild about the cool and often windy days of Autumn, I would think of Winter as a time of cold, dark, and snow that would inhibit my ability to be outdoors and even get to my office. Depressing! I would feel anxious and trapped during big storms.

Then something happened that changed everything for me. A few years back, there was a snowstorm that snowed me in for two weeks. And after that there were several more that kept me home for a few days at a time. It was a Winter of snow, ice, and more snow. Much like we seem to have every Winter now. I found myself doing things indoors that I would not be doing in Summer, when I am outdoors as often as possible. While snowed in, I caught up on indoor projects, cleaned out closets, read books I had been meaning to read, watched lots of movies with family, cooked and did some baking, slept more, relaxed. I didn't have to be anywhere by a certain time and that felt almost like vacationing. I started to read about how people in cold weather countries coped. I noticed how Scandinavian people fill their dark and snowy winters with festive foods, light, and activity. I cultivated some indoor hobbies. In other words, I started to enjoy Winter. It's still not my favorite season, but I do like so much about it. Here are some tips for coping with the Winter Blues:
The first few are very basic but if you are not physically comfortable you will have a hard time mentally feeling better.
1. Dress warmly-wear layers, gloves, hats, boots, whatever it takes to keep warm. Winter clothes can be fun and very stylish.
2. Eat Seasonally-Prepare foods that are in season and consider investing in a crock pot/slow cooker. They are great for making soups and stews. A bread machine is a nice thing to have too. Both fill the house with warm, delicious aromas. Winter foods are heartier but they don't have to be unhealthy. For some healthy recipes and inspiration, go to www.vegetariantimes.com.
4. Exercise. Ask your physician what type of exercise is safe and appropriate for you. I don't mean you have to run marathons. Even just taking a walk has enormous benefits. Shopping malls are great places to walk indoors during cold and inclement weather.
5. Meditate. Meditation can help you manage your moods, stress, and anxiety. There are thousands of books, Youtube videos, and websites with information on how to meditate. I like the free resources psychologist Tara Brach provides on her website :www.TaraBrach.com. Did you know that Yoga, Tai Chi, and walking meditation are all moving forms of meditation?
6. Keep your work areas well lit. Light candles (safely) for atmosphere during meals, and consider getting a Light Box. (More about Light boxes later). If you have a fireplace or wood burning stove, build a fire. Make sure you have it cleaned and serviced annually so you can safely use it.
7. Before a snowstorm hits, stock up on books to read and movies to watch. Head over to your local library, add ebooks to your ebook reader, and make a list of shows and movies you would like to watch.
8. Cultivate some indoor hobbies. Being creative keeps you busy and distracted from watching the snow falling. If you are a golfer, practice putting. Learn to knit, crochet, paint, draw, occupy your time in creative ways.
9. Cultivate outdoor hobbies. With the proper clothing and equipment, for some people, cold weather hobbies can be quite enjoyable. Buddy up with cold weather enthusiasts. Find out what kind of hobbies or sports they enjoy in the cooler weather months. Find out what kind of Fall and Winter activities the local nature center has planned.
10. Grow some houseplants. Indoor gardening is a fun and relaxing hobby and there is something for everyone to grow. Not only do plants add to the decor, they also improve the air quality in your home. African violets are inexpensive, relatively easy to grow, and will bloom all year round. For free tips on growing them, visit the African Violet Society's website at http://www.avsa.org Grow herbs on your windowsill and look through gardening catalogues for what you want to grow in Spring. If you really have a black thumb, consider getting an Aerogarden. You can grow flowers, herbs, even tomatoes in one. http://www.aerogarden.com
11. If possible, install bird feeders and watch the natural habitat outside your windows. In Autumn, find your local hawk watch and see the huge migration of hawks, eagles, and more. Learn to identify the birds and wildlife in your backyard. All it takes is a decent set of binoculars and a good guide book. All of the best wildlife and bird guides are also available as apps, complete with bird songs to help you ID them. After a snowstorm, observe the animal tracks in the snow. To learn more, join your local Audubon group. In New Jersey, it's the New Jersey Audubon Society at http://www.njaudubon.org
12. Ask your physician to test you for vitamins D and B deficiencies. It's a simple blood test and a surprising number of people are low in them.
13. Join something. A club, a society, a class. Cultivate new friends and new interests.
14. Visit indoors gardens. There may be a large indoor horticultural garden in your area. My favorite is Longwood Gardens (http://www.longwoodgardens.org). Horticultural societies often have annual shows with magnificent displays of tropical foliage.
15. Focus on what is good about Winter. Yes, I know it's cold and dark, but there is a lot more to it than that. Celebrate the Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice. Decorate and celebrate the holidays. Find the good and do your best to enjoy it. There is beauty in every season. You still may not be a fan of Winter, but at the very least you will be able to tolerate it and not sink into a four month funk.
Please see my next blog on Light Boxes. A light box can help ward off Winter Blues and is something I recommend for those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.).

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