Dos and Don’ts of Beating the Winter Blues

by Ama Debrah
            Even though I spent the majority of winter break lying on a pristine beach at home in sunny Hawaii, the cold New York winter never left my mind.  I was lucky to escape the “Boxing Day Blizzard” in the nick of time. I knew that the instant I got off the plane at Newark, New Jersey, I would be hit with a very serious case of the “winter blues.”

            Not surprisingly, everyone has at one point experienced the depression and lack energy associated with the winter blues.  However, if you have intense winter blues symptoms such as: extreme depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal, you may be one of the 20% of Americans with mild to severe Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.  Although the official cause of SAD is unknown, SAD is triggered by the lessening amount of daylight in the fall and winter seasons.  Physicians say that people with SAD produce too much of the hormone melatonin, which causes depressive symptoms. 
            If you think you may have SAD or if you’re just feeling a little down, here is a list of do’s and don’ts to help you remain hot even when the weather is not. 
DO go out in the sun (when it’s available): Though it’s easy to coop yourself up in Columbia University’s Butler Library when the weather is below freezing, sunlight increases serotonin and endorphins that keep your emotions positive while naturally providing the body with vitamin D.  If it’s overcast, you can use light therapy, also called phototherapy, to mimic the benefits from the sun.  Experts say a half an hour of phototherapy is enough to equal the benefits of a day of normal sun exposure.  If interested, the Barnard Office of Disability Services rents out a light box for one week of usage. 
DO exercise regularly: Although this is easier said than done, regular exercise not only raises your metabolism and increases blood flow to the brain, but also helps prevent depression by improving your “psychological fitness” through boosting endorphins and serotonin levels.  Besides, one hour of exercise is equal to the benefits of spending two and half hours in the sun.  If you don’t feel like going to the gym, Well-Woman is providing free weekly yoga sessions starting January 30th at Sundays at 7:15, and also has free yoga and Pilates DVDs.
DO keep regular sleeping hours: As a college student, it’s almost impossible to get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night.  However, one way to improve the quality of a few hours of shut-eye is to maintain a steady sleep schedule by going to sleep and waking up at relatively around the same time.  In fact, the incorporation of regular sleeping habits is a treatment physicians prescribe to combat depression. 
DO maintain a healthy diet: Even though eating healthy in college may seem as futile as passing organic chemistry without a curve, a nutritious diet full of complex carbohydrates, such as whole wheat, brown rice, vegetables, and fruit, increases energy and serves as a much needed concentration boost in the beginning of the semester.
DO talk it out:  If you think you may have SAD or simply if winter is getting you down, the best thing to do is seek help from a counselor.  To make an appointment with the Furman Counseling Center, call (212) 854-2092.  Well-Woman also offers informal counseling, and students can speak with a staff member from Monday to Friday on 1-4pm, or a peer educator from 7-9pm on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. 
DON’T oversleep: While it may seem logical to make up for an all-nighter with 16 straight hours of sleep, those extra hours can actually leave you more tired and lethargic.  Oversleeping has been proven to increase depression symptoms, and plus, 17 hours of sleep is actually equivalent to a .05 blood alcohol level. 
DON’T gorge on sweets: The occasional brownie may be essential for surviving the winter months, but too many sweets may actually be the cause of your winter depression.  Even if a little chocolate may seem to lift your spirits while you’re indulging, refined and processed foods can not only cause depression, but also create lack of concentration and mood swings.
DON’T binge on caffeine: I’ll admit, coffee is sometimes the only motivation I have to get out of bed on a cold winter’s morning.  However, more than 500 milligrams, (equal to about four cups of coffee), of caffeine a day can have a diuretic effect that leads to dehydration.  Remember, experts recommend six to eight glasses of water a day in addition to any caffeinated drinks.
Ama Debrah is a Barnard First-Year.



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