Driving home from work, I couldn't help but notice the landscaping along the way looked magical. The enormous snowflakes falling, the tree branches hanging overhead draped in snow and the mountains standing majestic in the background make for a Norman Rockwell painting for certain. However, as this scene is painted over and over - and many of you have been without power this week, have had accidents or slid and fish-tailed, just trying to make it to your destination - Norman Rockwell painting or not, you are tired of the white stuff. You know the winter blues are bad when the sun comes out and everyone is telling their family and friends to "Look! Sun!" Also, the sun is being tweeted, Facebooked, and e-mailed, and would win a popularity contest in our area right now!
The wintertime blues are real and not imagined, and though we joke about it, this time of year can be especially difficult on those stuck indoors (and who isn't right now?) as well as the elderly who dare not go out and risk a fall. I knew the snow was getting to me the other day when I was doing my preparedness thing to the extreme - and those who have seen and/or lifted my pocketbook know what I'm talking about. I was thinking on the drive home during one of the worst storms we have had thus far that I needed to be prepared if a tree falls in the road in front of me and seriously considered stopping at Elkins Equipment Co. to purchase a chainsaw just in case. I was hoping for a pink one. However, I decided I'd probably cut my leg off in the process of removing the tree, and decided against it.
Mental clarity during the wintertime goes for a hike and fog brain is more the norm. Studies have proven that West Virginia is one of the states in the lead for vitamin D deficiency. Of course, we get our vitamin D from the sun, so it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why our moods go sour, our minds go blank and our get-up-and-go just got up and went. One of the best things that a person can do to avoid the winter blues, especially those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD or wintertime depression, is to get on a good vitamin regimen. Vitamin D is sometimes referred to as the "sunshine vitamin" because it aids in bone health and is produced in the body after exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. By taking it during the winter months, you will feel as though you have been in the sunlight. Because of the depression that comes to some people in the winter, vitamins B6 and B12 are also important because these are mood enhancers. Add to this a daily multivitamin, and you will be taking a huge step toward avoiding those winter blues.
When winter comes, the days get shorter and, even in the daytime, it is not as bright as in the other seasons, especially in places where most of the winter days are gray and cloudy. Because of this, it is a good idea to change the bulbs in your home to either brighter ones, or bulbs that are made especially for SAD sufferers. The latter imitates sunlight.
However, there are also some things we can do to lift our spirits and enjoy (yes, I went there) the remainder of winter.
We can do what the average 2-year-old does hundreds of times a day: Laugh. Laughter is like a medicine, the Scripture says, and science backs this up. So, instead of your dramas, soaps, or criminal/cop shows, watch a funny movie. Many physicians believe laughter also has healing properties. It will, in fact, increase the "feel good" chemicals in your brain. So laugh.
Cocooning is great, and I love to do it under an electric afghan surrounded by my embroidery, magazines, computer, books and magazines. But connecting with real live people is more important. Go ahead and spend some time cocooning, but then invite friends over and have a game night and have fun. Personally, the kids and I have done this with some friends, and I laughed so hard my face hurt. Good, wholesome fun goes a long way in improving our moods during winter.
You don't have to be extravagant to have friends in your home. I have found the teens we have over often will eat anything put before them and it can be on paper plates. It is the togetherness we all crave, but don't even realize it sometimes. Another thing having children and teens in your home does is keeps you young at heart. The connections you create by making your house a haven will do as much or more for you than those you invite indoors.
Family togetherness can also go a long way in preserving our sanity during these winter months. Presently, I'm "schooling" my youngest son on Chinese checkers, and quite frankly, the student has became the teacher. We love our new Mayberry Monopoly. OK, it's a bit corny, but I love it as every place on the board is from the show, and the money has their faces on it. OK, I'm a dweeb, but it's fun.
Meals together build a cohesive unit as well, and can open conversation and laughter otherwise not heard when eating in front of the television. Family hanging out together will create an atmosphere of fun. I know some people have put up card tables and are working puzzles together to pass the long evenings of winter.
Plan your summer vacations or gardens. Whatever brings you serenity, start now. Look through brochures, seed catalogs, online sites that feature what you are going to do once spring actually gets here. Anticipation of an event is a huge part of the fun.
Make church and other social activities a priority when you can make it at all. Social connections again: key to improved mood. If you're a shut-in, use that telephone and computer to connect with family and friends.
Exercise (you knew we were "going there," didn't you?) is the enemy of depression. Exercise releases endorphins and even short episodes of exercise will improve your mood. I told my depression recovery class that I teach on Wednesday nights that I knew I was out of the habit of exercise when I thought about it and my last regular exercise routine was to a VHS tape of Denise Austin! Yeah, I had to get rid of that baby fat from having my sons! Hello. They are 14 and almost 17 now. Sheesh, I need to get moving! Exercise is a guaranteed mood booster, with the added bonus of burning calories and keeping our hearts, lungs and bodies healthy.
Last but not least, do something nice for someone each and every day. It sounds trite, but if you want to get out of your own funk, help someone else get out of theirs. A kind word, a meal, shoveled walk or a visit to the nursing home are a few ideas. I am remembering Stanley Gould's advice for me to give to you: go visit the nursing homes and convalescent centers, and smile and talk. Stanley (everyone's favorite person in Elkins and beyond) says it truly makes a difference. You will find yourself lighter and happier just by reaching out. Oh, and if you go to cheer Stanley and so many others up, you will find that the tables have somehow been turned on you, and it is Stanley that cheers you up. True story.
The old saying, "everyone is complaining about the weather, but no one is doing anything about it" comes to mind as I conclude. We cannot do anything about the weather, but when we get a BA (bad attitude) about it, that not only affects us, but those around us. So let's do something about what we can do something about: our attitudes. Let's start exercising, take our vitamins, connecting with people, plan our spring and summer, and do something nice for someone every day. Instantly, your mood will become brighter and you will be out of the clutches of the wintertime blues.
(Editor's note: Kimberly Short-Wolfe, MA, is a counselor and chaplain with Cornerstone Christian Counseling Center. She may be contacted by phone at 304-637-7018 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.)