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The holidays are over, the get-togethers gone, decorations boxed up. You feel tired, spent out. The days are shorter and colder. You may find yourself feeling depressed, sleeping longer, craving carbs. These are some of the symptoms of winter blues, and a more serious form known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). While winter blues may fade on its own, the effects of SAD can be more debilitating and require active intervention.

There are some steps you can take to counter these symptoms. Your diet, exercise, and sleep patterns can be monitored and altered to help lift you out of the doldrums. From this list of suggestions, it is usually possible to find something that works for you. Remember, what works for one person may not for another, so don't give up if the first remedy you try doesn't work. Just try another.

Light Therapy

Shorter days mean less sunlight. Try taking a walk in the middle of the day to get fresh air and sunshine. Not only are you exposing your brain to natural light therapy, you are also exercising. If that isn't possible, you may want to investigate the light box, which emits brighter light than standard indoor lighting. Most doctors recommend a minimum of 30 minutes a day, but that may vary.

Exercise

As stated above, a walk in the middle of the day gives you sunshine and exercise. You will sleep better getting the fresh air, sun, and movement.

Keep Warm

Being cold makes you more depressed. It's also been shown that staying warm can reduce the winter blues by half. Keep warm with hot drinks and hot food. Wear warm clothes and shoes. Keep the temperature in your home between 64 and 70 degrees.

A New Hobby

It could be anything such as playing bridge, singing, knitting, joining a gym, keeping a journal, or writing a blog. The important thing is that you have something to look forward to and concentrate on.

Stay Socially Active

Socializing is good for your mental health and helps ward off the winter blues. Make sure you accept invitations and extend invitations to family and friends.

Talk It Through

Discuss what you are going through with a trusted friend, family member, clergy, counsellor, or medical professional, depending on the degree of severity you are experiencing.

Eat Healthily

Lean protein. Omega-3 fatty acids have been praised for their health benefits, including possibly influencing your mood. One study found that people with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids were less likely to experience moderate or mild symptoms of depression. Sources that contain the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids include flax seeds, walnuts, and salmon.

Berry good.  Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries may help prevent the release of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland during times of stress.

Folic acid. Research shows that folic acid boosts your mood. There’s some evidence that the body uses it to create serotonin — a neurotransmitter that affects mood. You can get high amounts of folic acid in leafy greens, oatmeal, sunflower seeds, oranges, fortified cereals, lentils, black-eyed peas, and soybeans.

Vitamin B12. Like folic acid, low levels of vitamin B12 in the blood are associated with depression. There are lots of tasty ways to fit it into your diet. Food sources of vitamin B12 include lean beef, clams, oysters, crab, wild salmon, eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, milk, and fortified cereals.

Vitamin D. Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin” because your body can make it by using cholesterol and absorbing natural sunshine. Your mood may improve with as little as 10 minutes of sun exposure. This is why light therapy is an important treatment for SAD. Your body can also absorb vitamin D through food. Food sources of vitamin D include milk, egg yolks, mushrooms, and fish that have bones. You can also get vitamin D in supplement form.

Chocolate. You read that right! Chocolate has always been a tasty and good way to self-medicate through down times. Participants in one study were given a dark chocolate mixed drink every day for a month. Results showed significantly improved mood, which researchers linked to a high polyphenol content. Polyphenols are a type of antioxidant.

When you’re feeling down, pick up a bar with the highest cocoa content you can find.

As always, if you are not able to function in your day-to-day activities, you should seek professional medical help. There are medications that can be prescribed if all the above recommendations do not work for you. The Greenville Medical Clinic can offer you support and follow-up.

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