Are You S.A.D. This Winter?!!

Standard
This was earlier in the winter season because now when I go outside, I'm DEFINITELY NOT SMILING!

This was earlier in the winter season because now when I go outside, I’m DEFINITELY NOT SMILING!

Hi All! Well, it’s COLD here in the Midwest, and by cold I mean CCCCCCOOOOLD! Right this minute it’s 1 degree here, and with the wind chill it feels like 11 degrees BELOW ZERO! Oh, and it’s gloomy too, we have moments of sunshine but really it’s been quite cloudy. You get the picture, right? If you don’t, here’s the picture. I mean, a picture of what it looks like here at this moment.

Right now at the casa! Taken from inside of course because as I said it's COLD out!!!

Right now at the casa! Taken from inside of course because as I said it’s COLD out!!!

It looks like where Nasa faked the moon landing, doesn’t it? Very desolate and grey, and it’s been like this for a long while. So, the point of this post is that because of the lack of sunlight and inability to go outside, some of us (which definitely includes ME!) are susceptible to the “winter blues”.

Yep, that's what it said this morning when I took my dogs out! Horrid!

Yep, that’s what it said this morning when I took my dogs out! Horrid!

Now here’s an important point that I want to be sure to make from the get go, there is a difference between being sad and a little blue during the winter and real clinical depression. I’m talking about the winter blues here, so if you feel you are clinically depressed (can’t get out of bed, feel suicidal, etc), please talk to a medical professional IMMEDIATELY.

My babies were smiling earlier in the winter too- now they're freezing walking around their college campus!

My babies were smiling earlier in the winter too- now they’re freezing walking around their college campus!

What I’m talking about is something called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It’s so aptly named because that’s the way I feel lately, a little sad. Here’s the 411 on SAD, it’s a feeling of fatigue, sadness and depression that grows as sunlight grows scarce. It’s differentiated from regular depression because unlike regular depression, it totally goes away in the spring and summer months. It’s been estimated that 20% of Americans are affected by SAD each winter.

The reason this happens is that as the days begin to darken and sunlight is at a minimum our health and mood is intricately tied to exposure to sunlight. SAD has long been associated with Vitamin D deficiency, in addition to more chronic depression. Vitamin D receptors appear in a wide variety of brain tissue, and activated Vitamin D receptors increase nerve growth in the brain, so it’s important for brain function and mental health in general. Take Serotonin levels, for example. The hormone typically associated with elevating your mood, Serotonin rises when exposed to bright light.  Also, Melatonin rises and falls inversely with light and darkness. Like, when it’s dark your melatonin levels increase, which is why we feel tired when the sun starts to set. And when it sets so early in the winter, 4 pm?!!, we start to feel tired earlier than usual. Also, our circadian rhythms, or biological clock, is controlled by light and darkness and impacts hormones that regulate appetite and metabolism.

See? This is why we are more sad (lack of vitamin D), cranky (lack of Seratonin), tired (too much Melatonin) and hungry (circadian rhythms are off) in the winter. It’s not our fault, it’s darn winter’s fault! I always feel better if I can blame someone or something else!

Chewie trying to get as much sunlight as he can in these darky, gloomy days!

Chewie trying to get as much sunlight as he can in these darky, gloomy days!

Believe me, though, when I tell you that this is nothing to make light of. It can really throw you off and make you feel pretty darn bad. However, I want to assure my wonderful readers that this is something we can conquer or at least minimize as much as possible. I’ve got a list for you that I’ve compiled from a number of sources (including the one who resides in my home when I needed additional assistance with this issue!) about ways to help make you feel better during the dark, cold winter months. I KNOW it will help you as it’s helped me a lot!

1. Exercise- Get Moving! That’s the best advice for when I’m feeling gloomy and tired, I ride my bike, kickbox, or take a jog with my dogs. Anything to get the blood flowing makes me feel so warm and happy. As Elle Woods in Legally Blonde said, “Exercise gives you Endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t.” Wise words from one of my favorite movies! 🙂

2. Go Outside– It seems like the last thing I want to do when it’s cold and gloomy out but I’ll tell you, it is the most effective cure for my SAD, especially when the sun is out. Sunlight is the best way to boost Vitamin D and seratonin so this is super important in the winter. However, even if it isn’t, I find that just getting a bit of fresh air makes me feel better. I’ve taken my dogs for a walk every day of this winter, except when it’s below zero outside or an ice storm, and it helps not only me but my dogs too. I think Chewie has SAD as well because when we can’t take our walk he seems genuinely bummed.

3. Light therapy– If there is no way to get natural sunlight, sun substitutes must be employed to help vitamin D production. I have a full-spectrum light box, and I use it every morning to help stimulate vitamin D and serotonin levels naturally. A good quality light box is around $150, and for me totally worth it to help give me a natural boost. I also advocate the use of ELECTRONIC BALLAST tanning beds. Most commercial tanning salons utilize magnetic ballast systems which generate potentially harmful electromagnetic fields (EMF), and the electronic ballast systems do not. I know this is a controversial topic. I know this because in my own family the fact that I have an electronic ballast tanning bed has caused a lot of angst and fighting. All I can say is that it is my belief, no my certainty, that sunlight (and tanning beds) DO NOT CAUSE SKIN CANCER. conversely it is the LACK OF VITAMIN D (or avoidance of sunlight) that causes cancer. Now, I have certain caveats to my beliefs in this regard, first, NEVER EVER BURN YOURSELF IN THE SUN/TANNING BED/OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT.I have not ever burned to my knowledge and I never intend to. Second, while it is not my belief that sun/tanning beds cause skin cancer, I know they cause premature aging of the skin so I always cover my head with a hat and my eyes with sunglasses when I’m in the sun. Third, everything in moderation. I only utilize my tanning bed twice a week because I don’t want to be one of those leather skinned old ladies who walk on the beach in Florida, even though I have one in my home. I mean, just because I have bottles of wine in my home I’m not going to drink them all at once, am I?

4. Supplementation– I highly recommend everyone to go and get their vitamin D levels tested. Any doctor can write a prescription for the test. Then, you’ll see how low it probably is. I say that because the National health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that 50% of children aged 1-5 years, 70% of kids 6-11, 50% of people under 60 years old, and 95% of all senior citizens are deficient or have insufficient vitamin D. So basically, many of us have low vitamin D. I had mine tested in the summer when I was getting plenty of sun and IT WAS STILL LOW. So I take a daily vitamin D3 (there are different D’s but D3 is the best one for absorption) supplement of 5,000 IU (international units). The ideal amount of vitamin D you’re looking for is 50-70 ng/ml and you want to maintain this year round. Vitamin D is key for so many other of our bodily functions, and low vitamin D has been tied to all kinds of cancers so this is one of the major things you can do for your health in general. I also take a SAMe supplement which helps increase serotonin levels. Remember, always buy pharmaceutical grade supplements and don’t buy them at the grocery store or a big box store. That way you know you’re getting a quality supplement that will actually do what it’s supposed to do. And always check with your physician before taking any supplements.

5. Cuddling– Cuddling up with your husband/wife/significant other/children/pets is one of the good things about this cold, miserable weather, and it benefits your body as well. Hugs increase your endorphins which are your “feel good” hormones, and when you’re chilly it feels so good to snuggle up with a warm body, so by all means, increase those endorphins and get warm and cozy too. You’ll all benefit from that! 🙂

6. Keep it bright– have a roaring fire in your fireplace, turn on the lights, and keep the shades/curtains open to let in as much light as possible. It will help stimulate vitamin D and serotonin levels.

7. Get enough sleep and the right kind of it- It’s important to stick to a pattern of going to sleep fairly early and getting up that way too. If we stray too far from our biological patterns of going to sleep when it’s dark and awaking when the sun rises it can disrupt the hormonal cycles of our bodies which can affect both mood and health. Aim for 8 hours of sleep per night, and try to get them at a reasonable time. I usually go to bed around 10:30-11 and awaken around 7. Insomnia is one of the biggest links between depression and health, with half the people who are diagnosed with depression also struggling with insomnia. Try to keep it dim in the bedroom and DON’T FALL ASLEEP WITH THE TV ON. Besides the noise the tv creates which can disrupt sleep, it also emanates blue light which is a stimulant and can keep you from falling into a deep sleep. In fact, eliminate all electronic devices in the bedroom. There are no laptops, ipads or computers in our bedroom, although we do have our phones next to our beds which serve as our alarm clocks. We have a tv too, however we don’t usually watch tv in our bedroom preferring to watch in the family room.

8. Proper Nutrition– The link between food and overall health cannot be overstated (especially by me).  Avoid processed foods which have a detrimental impact on brain function and mental health in general because of the SUGAR PROCESSED FOODS CONTAIN. Because your gut actually produces more serotonin than your brain does, optimizing gut health by eating fermented vegetables and taking probiotics every day really helps with SADAlso, increasing animal based Omega 3 fats is essential for mood, especially because your brain consists of about 60% fat and you need a constant input of them for your brain to work properly. A 2009 study showed that people with low levels of Omega 3’s were more likely to have symptoms of depression than those with higher levels.

There you go! That’s what I’ve learned about SAD and the ways to prevent it. Now if spring could FINALLY get here I know I’ll feel better. I’m also looking forward to our upcoming (3 weeks!) trip to a warmer state than Indiana which will really help as well. Until then, I will try to stay warm and utilize the strategies I’ve outlined above to help me cope. Let me know if you try any of them, and if it helps you too! Overcoming SAD will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

 

 

Baby it’s Cold Outside! Comfort in the CCCCCCCCOLD!!

Standard
Brutally cold but I'm still smiling!

Brutally cold but I’m still smiling!

Yikes it’s cold here in the Midwest! By cold, I mean 8 degrees below zero cold- and that’s not wind chill, that’s actual temperature, my friends. That was the temperature when I awakened this morning, and had to take my dogs out on leash because my little dog runs through the invisible fence. His wee paws froze after about 2 minutes and I had to bring him in to thaw before trying to take him out again so he could do his duty. That kind of cold is beyond description, you just have to experience it to know what I mean.

My backyard right now! Yikes!

My backyard right now! Yikes!

It’s worse because my daughters, sister and niece are currently in Florida experiencing their version of cold- 60 degrees, as I’m shivering here in Indiana. My house is pretty warm and cozy on a regular basis, but in this kind of cold even my house seems drafty and chilly. When it’s so disgustingly frigid out, I need peace more than ever, and I turn to my tried and true, sure fire ways to feel cozy and happy no matter what the temperature. In past posts, I mentioned ways I feel comforted when experiencing stress of any kind, reading my Kindle, listening to music, taking a bath, spending time spiritually, and a good meal/glass of wine. I thought today I’d share ways in which I help myself feel especially contented when it’s warm.

Jac and a light saber!

Jac and a light saber!

1. Watching a good movie– I love to watch movies when it’s cold out, or when I’m sad/stressed. My favorite movies to watch are the Star Wars series, and I admit I’m sort of a Star Wars freak. I have watched the series probably 50 times or more, and I never get tired of watching the movies. Something about the whole good versus evil thing, with good winning out just gets me every time.

Love me some Yoda!

Love me some Yoda!

The good thing is that I’ve infected my family with my Star Wars mania and they love Star Wars too. Jacqueline has a Han Solo frozen in carbonite phone case (watch the series for explanation), and the girls gifted me with a visit to the traveling Star Wars exhibition last year at the Indiana State Museum for Mother’s Day, and they enjoyed it almost as much as I did. My Honey gave me the light saber you see in the picture of Jac for Christmas this year, it is glass, and he chose the colors and sounds for it. What a guy! Anyway, watching any of the six Star Wars movies never fails to make me feel cozy and comforted, so whatever your favorite movies are- watch them with your family and you’ll feel all warm inside!

Cozying up with dogs should never be underrated!

Cozying up with dogs should never be underrated!

2. Dogs (or cats if that’s your preference)- My dogs have always comforted me in times of sadness. They’re also excellent at warming up my toes and lap by laying on me when I’m cold. Whenever my little guy, Chewie, sees a blanket come out on any member of our family, he comes running to share in the cuddle time. I can’t remember a time when they’ve failed to give me warmth and love. They give me so much more than I give them, and I love them so much!

A soft blanket made even better by my children's faces on it!

A soft blanket made even better by my children’s faces on it!

3. A cozy blanket– When my daughters went away to college, I had a blanket made for each of them with different pictures of family and friends on it, hoping that it would comfort them by laying under all of the loving people in their lives. I wanted them to feel like we were all holding them in a warm embrace, even when they were far away from home. They both have told me that it is one of the best things they have at college, and it reminds them they are loved by lots of people. I had them made on Walmart.com and they are relatively inexpensive, $60ish. It’s pretty easy to download the pictures and create the collage of photos. I paid a little extra for the larger blanket with the thicker fleece and felt it was well worth it. Imagine my surprise when my girls had a blanket made for me last year with pictures of the three of us on it, so that I would feel comforted when they both went away to college for the first time last fall! I love my blanket and use it almost every day. When they left to go on their trip to Florida, the first thing I did after coming home from dropping them off at the airport was lay on the couch under my blanket of our faces. It’s soooo cozy and makes me happy to use it. I highly recommend having one made for your loved ones too! And have them make one for you!

Past Disney trip, modified with a few extra faces by my Honey!

Past Disney trip, modified with a few extra faces by my Honey!

4. Looking forward to a warm trip (or looking back fondly on a past one)- Another way I make myself feel better when it’s cold out or when I’m sad, is to either look forward to an upcoming warm trip or reminisce about a past one. I love to look at pictures from past trips we have taken, I can almost feel the sunshine jump out of the pictures and into my body!

Recent family trip to Key West- good times in a beautiful place!

Recent family trip to Key West- good times in a beautiful place!

I also love to plan future family trips to warm places. We are going to Florida over spring break, and it is such fun to spend time working out the details of our sunny trip to a warm location when it is so bleak and cold outside. It makes me feel like I’m there, at least for a short while.

Watching my girls cheer on my Boilers- happiness!

Watching my girls cheer on my Boilers- happiness!

5. Watching my favorite team (and my favorite cheerleaders)- Even before my daughters were cheerleaders I loved to watch my Boilers. We had season tickets to Purdue football for years when the girls were little, and went to many basketball games. We also liked watching the games on television when we couldn’t attend them. Now, it’s so much better when I can not only watch my Boilers, but I can watch my beloved daughters cheer for them too. It’s a definite win-win for me! I particularly love watching the NCAA basketball tournament in March. March Madness is so infectious, and jumping up and down to cheer on my team warms me up too! Go team go!

Well, that’s all I have time for today, Folks, but there are so many other things I love and that bring me comfort. They are dark chocolate, cooking, exercise, popcorn, cookbooks, coffee, spicy food, and writing my blog! I couldn’t live without these, along with all the others I mentioned above. They get me through bleak and cold times in my life, both outside and inside as well. I hope my list of favorites helps you and inspires you to surround yourself with love and serenity. You deserve it, my wonderful readers. It will help you lead a life of vitality- with Valerie!