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Ask Chicagoist: Winter Depression?

By Thales Exoo in Miscellaneous on Nov 16, 2007 4:58PM

2007_11_asksad.jpgAsk Chicagoist,

It's dark at 4pm, it's starting to get cold, and it all just makes me sad. Or, SAD. How can I skip the seasonal-affective disorder this winter? Or should I just give in and hide for three months?

Winter Sucks

Dear WS,

Oh we hear you. Seasonal Affective Disorder, thy name is Ask Chicagoist. There's nothing that sounds more appealing when the world is bleak and cold than hibernating until April. But if we can't do it, you can't either.

First of all, you're not crazy. Feelings of depression as the winter sets on are completely valid: "As the seasons change each year, some people are particularly sensitive to the variations in sunlight patterns that occur as days become shorter and nights become longer. When a person is out of phase with day and night, hormones, chemicals, and neurotransmitters are released at the wrong times, leading to imbalances in the body’s systems."

Now, don't spend all winter huddled up in the cave of your apartment watching DVDs and YouTube videos, eating take-out and cupcakes, and ignoring the world. [Ed. note: This is my entire life.] Seriously, we get the appeal, but you've got to move around and get out of the house. We think our cats are great conversationalists too, but human interaction is amazingly healing, especially if you find the right humans.

Go out with your friends, spend time with your family and people who love you, or meet new people if your friends are all depressive jerks. And by "spend time" we don't mean "go out and get wasted." Alcohol is a depressant, and if you're already teetering on the mental health edge, keep the alcohol consumption down. You don't have to become a teetotaler for the season, but consider the potential emotional ramifications of getting obnoxiously trashed.

Take a class in something you've always wanted to try. Chicago is a continuing education junkie's playground, and we bet you could find a class in about anything you can think of somewhere in the city. Learn a language, take up knitting, become a bartender, finally go to yoga every week -- it doesn't matter what it is, just keep busy. Volunteer. We hate to sound cheesy, but helping out others is a good way to not worry about what's going on in your own head so much.

Keep active too. Don't let your gym membership just sit there, actually go and work out. Convincing ourselves it's a good idea is never easy, but once we're done exercising, it's incredible how much better we feel. It's not just hype, it's absolutely accurate. Keep moving. Sure it's cold, but run around the block. Go for a walk. Keep moving and your brain will thank you. We think exercise is probably the number one way to beat SAD, as well as being the hardest thing to do while you're suffering from it.

If nothing else seems to cut it, don't discount the power of talk therapy. We're huge advocates for talking through your problems, and a good unbiased source to bounce your own little dramas off of can do wonders. It's not so bad for it all to be about you for 50 minutes once a week. We're big fans of Omega-3 supplements (1000mg of DHA) too, which are said to help by raising serotonin levels. However, if things get really severe you can even talk to your doctors about anti-depressants. Again, there's nothing wrong with getting a little help if it's needed. We've seen meds change people's lives (in good ways).

Light Box therapy, with full spectrum lamps that claim to mimic the sun are often used too. Some of them are even set to "rise" like the sun every morning. Being exposed to the artificial sunlight is said to "stimulate serotonin, melatonin and vitamin D production, which are all essential to well being." If you've got the money to spare, seems like it could be worth a shot, although the lamps are not without their controversies.

Take our advice and try implementing some changes so the winter doesn't get the better of you. You'll be happier for it, trust us. And we'll be struggling right along side of you, making sure our new name isn't "Ask Hypocritist."

What do you do to beat the winter blues?

Image via fabiovenni

Feeling sad? Need some advice? Email ask(at)chicagoist(dot)com.