Friday, February 19, 2010

Counselor's Corner: Beating the Winter Blues

I've been thinking a lot about winter lately. Haven't we all? This winter for many, many states has been one for the record books! I wonder when all the snow will finally melt? Today, we have sunshine for the first time in, well, I'm not sure!

This got me thinking about those of us who experience a serious lack of sunshine in the winter and those of us that experience the winter blues. According to the National Mental Health Association, Alaska has the highest rate of suicide than all other states, including DC. Along with this, the highest suicide rate is in the winter time. Along with many other factors, including lack of mental health resources, I, and many other professionals, wonder if the lack of sunlight plays a role in this state's astounding rate of self-harm.

Sunshine has so many benefits. In a world that is so focused on the ozone layer and the harmful effects of too much sun, these benefits are often forgotten. For example, just spending 15 minutes a day outside can give you all the Vitamin D you need. My pediatrician even recommended 15 minutes of play time outside everyday without sunscreen. The sun also raises cortisol levels in the body, a chemical your body produces that improves mood.

So it is winter time, and how do we get more sun? Some people who experience severe depression have purchased light boxes that stem anywhere from $200-$500! That's crazy expensive! Some say go to the tanning bed. I do not recommend this because in order to receive the benefits of light therapy, you need to have your eyes open, and tanning beds can damage your eyes.

My best advice for beating the winter blues is:
  • Get out in the snow and play! In those days that do have sunshine, get out there and play! Remember how much fun you had as a kid in the snow? Now, me personally, I hate the cold weather. But if it is sunny, and I am bundled up, it really isn't all that bad if I am having fun.
  • Sleep in the dark. I highly recommend sleeping, without an alarm clock (i.e. kids) if you can a couple of times a week. When you sleep, try to make it as dark as possible as this helps your body balance cortisol levels.
  • Exercise. Find something that is going to give your heart rate a boost and get your blood flowing. Incorporating fun and family time in your exercise routine helps too. For example, my daughter loves music. We turn on the radio really loud and just dance around the house. I flail my arms and legs and act really goofy, which gives her the giggles. I would never do this in public, but it gets me moving!
  • Find your faith. Lastly, the sun is no substitute for the Son. Having faith and acting on that faith will do more for your mood than any amount of sunshine. Why? Because we were born to serve others, to love others and to worship the one true Creator of our existence. Try volunteering, making something for charity, taking your child to a nursing home, etc., and I guarantee you will be in a better mood.

Happy Sledding!

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