Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Beating The Winter Blahs and Blues

Dear Mrs. Ditter, Please give me some suggestions for beating the winter blahs that don't cost too much or involve massive amounts of sugar...
Oh, honey, you came to the right place. For reasons that are probably painfully obvious, I have a whole bag of tricks for dealing with winter blahs, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), dark day depression, or whatever you want to call it. Read on for tips (most of them absolutely free and one damn cheap) to elevate your mood.
1. FREE! Get some exercise every single day. Yes, I really mean it. Unless you are so sick you can't get out of bed, you need to get your butt moving. I aim for an hour total each day, either walking hard with the dog or walking/running, but then I'm a hard case. Start with ten minutes and go up from there. I guarantee that if you do this for three weeks, every single day, you will feel better. Of course, you have to keep doing it. Think of it as a gift to yourself.
2. FREE! Get that exercise OUTSIDE if possible. Yes, I know. You live somewhere bitterly cold, or impossibly rainy, or just gross and slushy. So do I! Just put on your clothes and get out there. Your mother was right: Fresh air is good for what ails you.
3. CHEAP! Take Vitamin D supplements. This link focuses on women and Vitamin D, but the information is good for men and kids, too. If you don't have the time to click the link because you're too busy scarfing another half-dozen chocolate chip cookies, here's the basic info:
Your body is unable to create Vitamin D, which is not really a vitamin but a precursor hormone, or building block, for calcitriol, a steroid that regulates normal cell growth (among other things). Recently, a link has been shown between depression and Vitamin D deficiency. You need exposure to relatively strong sunlight, and a diet that provides Vitamin D-rich foods (fortified dairy products, wild salmon, etc.) to get enough Vitamin D. Most of us here in the Northern Hemisphere are Vitamin D deficient during the winter, and some of us are Vitamin D deficient most of the year. The current recommended daily requirement of 200 International Units daily appears to be way too low. Read the link for more specific info, but most adults can take up to 2,000 I.U.s a day. Some studies indicate that adults can safely process up to 10,000 I.U.s a day. I got my Vitamin D level tested a few months ago (a routine blood test), and it was in the basement. I now take 5,000 I.U.s a day. My kids take it, as well.
4. FREE! Stop sleeping so much! You are not a bear, and although our human bodies might feel as if they're going into hibernation mode during the winter, you are not, I repeat, a bear. So stop it.
5. FREE! Find something new to do, and do it. This does not include trying new chocolate chip cookie recipes. You know perfectly well that massive amounts of simple starches will bring you down, so step away from the oven and do--something else. Play the piano, even (especially?) if you do it badly. Go outside and shovel the walk, or do the fall clean-up that you've been cleverly avoiding by describing the mess as "winter shelter for the birdies", or ice skate or sled. Wash your windows inside and out. Or just inside. You get to decide. Get some crayons and color a picture--rainbow, flower, kitty cat, abstract masterpiece, whatever. Put on something other than that black turtleneck. Brush your teeth. Drink a glass of water. Now drink another.
6. FREE! Laugh. No kidding. Set aside ten minutes a day to laugh. You may need to start with two minutes and work up from there, but laughter has been shown to have a profound influence on mood elevation (translated from doctor speak: It Makes You Feel Happier). This is not a link to a scholarly article, but it does detail the many benefits of laughing: stronger immune system, reduced pain levels because of increased endorphins, a release of serotonin, and on and on.
7. FREE! Start a gratitude journal. Yeah, I know: yawn, barf, gag, New Age hoohah, spare me the sap, ick. But really? It works. Meister Eckhart, the German theologian born in 1260, wrote, "If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough." And he was like, smart, and spent a lot of time thinking about this sort of stuff. So grab a notebook (a ratty old one that that your children have used and abandoned will work just fine) and start writing. Every night, write five things for which you're grateful. If you can't think of anything, here's a FREE starter tip: Write down "I'm grateful for the air I breathe" and go from there.
8. FREE! Eckhart also wrote, "God is at home, it is we who have gone out for a walk." So do what you can to get yourself back home. Which is, I suppose, what this whole post is about. 
Questions? Leave them in the comments section below. 
And as always, thanks for reading.


  1. Rockin' good advice, Mrs. D. Really solid and sensible. You need to get your work out in public more. beats the heck out of many advice columnists I've read. Like all the reference links in this piece!

  2. Thanks...I'm really enjoying doing this blog. And I'm not sure how to get it "out in public"; you could help by sending friends here!