Endless grey skies, drizzle to snow mixtures, and wind so gusty you see it coming before it hits you paints a not-so-colorful stretch of winter weather typically found in the High Country. Days of dark, dreary weather have been known to make some folks come down with the winter blues or its more extreme version, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
“The winter blues are fairly common in our area with long winter months and very grey days. The challenge is diagnosing whether a client has a mild case of winter blues, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or another form of depression,” says Lisa Shelton, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Director of the Employee Assistance program with Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.
Symptoms for the winter blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) appear to be similar on the onset and may include:
- Sleep issues (either too much or not enough)
- Fatigued to the point where it is difficult to carry out daily routines
- Overeating and/or strong cravings for “comfort foods,” especially carbohydrates
- Lack of interest in normal activities
- Social withdrawal
Treatment techniques will determine whether or not the winter blues really are SAD or another form of depression. Shelton recommends a three-step process to clients describing some form of the winter blues.
Step one: Exercise
Yes, it’s a verb buzzed about all the time, but all this talk must lead to positive results because doctors, counselors, and other healthcare professionals are always recommending it. And, our area offers the Paul H. Broyhill Wellness Center, the Greenway, several parks, and sidewalks round about Boone to help you enjoy slivers of daylight during the winter months. A long walk outside helps refresh your senses, and if it is too yucky to go out, a creative solution may be to brighten up your home and do some jumping jacks, run-in-place, or stretches. Any form of exercise will help you warm up the winter blues.
Step two: Strive to sleep and rest well
If you exercise, you’re more likely to tire yourself out and sleep better. Other considerations include reducing caffeine intake, make an effort to turn off your thoughts (counting sheep is always a popular game), or just simply lying there and resting. If you continue to have trouble sleeping, seek your doctor’s advice and ask if a sleep study is right for you. If you are sleeping too much, make an effort to avoid snoozing past eight hours.
Step three: Engage in an activity that gives you pleasure
This suggestion seems simple enough, but people often struggle with time and money to make it happen. However, if you make it a priority, you’re likely to come up with an affordable solution that fits your budget. Popular winter activities may include reading, completing craft projects, sledding, ice skating, or other ideas discovered by talking with friends.
“Being aware of your symptoms is so important to getting past the winter blues. We’re most vulnerable when we’re unaware of what’s going on with us. Sometimes sitting down and talking with a trusted friend, family member, or professional, qualified healthcare worker can be very successful in dealing with the winter months,” continues Shelton.
If the above three steps do not seem to help your mood, seek the advice of your doctor or a licensed behavioral healthcare worker. Appalachian Regional Behavioral Health Services offers crisis care, therapy, and psychiatric services if you should need professional help.
Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may include light therapy, which involves exposure to daylight or a specially-made fluorescent bright light for 30 minutes to two hours a day. SAD can often be confused with other forms of depression, and patients with SAD aren’t usually diagnosed with it until their symptoms can be observed over a period of one or more fall/winter seasons.
Shelton concludes, “The most important consideration is to take the time to make your mental health a priority. People affected by the winter blues or other more serious forms of depression must strive to adjust their routines in order to have success, and the rewards of a happy, healthy mind are well worth the effort.”
Contact Appalachian Regional Behavioral Health at (828) 737-7888 or visit the website.
For High Country employers:
Lisa Shelton and staff of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) are available to provide short-term professional help and guidance to all employees and their family members of the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System as a part of the system’s benefits program. The EAP is highly confidential and accepts voluntary self-referrals. Additionally, the EAP contracts to provide services for the Town of Boone, Town of Beech Mountain, Grandfather Mountain, Boone Drug, several doctors’ offices, and other organizations throughout the High Country. For more information about EAP, call (828) 263-0121.
A version of this article, written by Koren Huskins first appeared in Carolina Mountain Life Magazine, and is republished with permission.