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The shorter days of winter, often combined with cold, wet weather, can be a real downer for some. According to Kenneth Morcos, MD, with Mint Hill Primary Care, part of Carolinas HealthCare System, winter blues are not just a myth. “We see patients who really are impacted by the decrease in sunlight and the cold weather in winter,” he said. “Even here in the Carolinas, with our mild weather, some people struggle with what’s called seasonal affective disorder, appropriately shortened to SAD.”
Dr. Morcos says the hallmarks of SAD are lethargy, feelings of depression, tendency to oversleep and lack of motivation to do the things you would normally enjoy doing.
The good news is two-fold: Seasonal blues are temporary, and there are steps you can take to combat the effects. Dr. Morcos offers the following five tips to keep your spirits up, even when the temperatures are low.
“Sometimes when you are feeling sluggish, the last thing you want to do is exercise,” said Dr. Morcos. “But you will be pleasantly surprised how much better you feel after even a short walk!” If the weather is bad and you don’t want to go outside, do something active inside. Vacuum the house (yes, this counts as activity!); find an exercise program on TV or your computer; or have an impromptu dance party with your kids.
Moving vigorously for even a short period of time –aim for 30 minutes – will release endorphins in your body. These feel-good hormones send messages to your brain that will lift your spirits.
It may seem obvious, but staying warm is important – for both your physical and emotional well-being. Keep your head and hands covered when you are outside. Remove wet clothes as soon as you come in from the cold. And, load up on warm drinks.
Now is a good time to stock your pantry with flavorful teas. Chamomile and green teas have been shown to have health benefits due to their antioxidants. Peppermint tea can be very soothing for someone suffering with sinus congestion and a sore throat, making it an excellent winter drink.
It makes sense that if the lack of sunlight in the winter months contributes to seasonal blues, making a point to get more light into your day would help. Step outside – bundle up and go for it – around lunchtime when the sun is at its brightest. The UV rays in sunshine stimulate the production of vitamin D in your body. Studies have shown a lack of vitamin D can contribute to depression. “If your efforts to catch some sun each day are not working, ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels,” said Dr. Morcos. “He or she can recommend the appropriate dose of a vitamin D supplement.”
You can also increase your intake of foods rich in vitamin D. Fish like sardines, herring, halibut, salmon and trout are all good choices. You can also add shrimp, soymilk, orange juice and milk to your diet.
While you’re stocking up on foods full of vitamin D, go ahead and throw some extra vegetables into your grocery cart, advised Dr. Morcos. Adding one extra serving of vegetables to your daily intake will provide you with the nutrients your body craves during winter months – and will help keep you feeling full so you don’t reach for more refined foods that zap your energy.
“Eating a diet rich in vitamins and fiber will also help you fight off colds and flu,” said Dr. Morcos. “This is the season of rapidly spreading virus and germs. Eating well can make it easier for you to recover from a cold or flu, should you get either.”
We can have a tendency to feel isolated by bad weather and the shorter days of winter. Making a concerted effort to connect with friends is key to keeping these feelings of isolation at bay. Put it on your to-do list to call a friend, neighbor or family member every day. Get together with friends once a week to share a cup of coffee. Or sign up to volunteer at an organization in your area that needs assistance. This is a great way to meet new people, and doing good feels good!
The primary care doctors at Carolinas HealthCare System can help you get (and stay) on the path to wellness.
Call 844-881-2180 or complete an online request form to find a doctor near you.