Office Visit: Coping with the Winter Blues

Office Visit: Coping with the Winter Blues

Lee esto en EspañolBy Joseph R. Cunningham, M.D.

Winter can bring many gifts, including special memories made with loved ones. However, it can also bring shorter days, gloomy weather, and stressors that contribute to seasonal blues.

Your body’s “internal clock”—or circadian rhythms—can be disrupted by fewer hours of sun exposure this time of year. Sunlight plays an important role in your body’s hormone production. Increased darkness triggers your brain to produce more melatonin, which promotes sleep, and less serotonin, which helps you feel alert. This may be why you find it difficult to get out of bed when it’s still dark outside.

In the winter, you may notice changes to your energy levels, appetite and overall mood. The good news is that, as we move toward spring, we gain approximately two minutes of sunlight each day. In the meantime, soak up as much sunlight as you can by exercising outdoors during the day, and be sure to eat a healthy diet rich in vitamin D.

You can also boost your mood by giving back. Numerous studies have linked generosity to increased satisfaction and improved health. While the COVID-19 pandemic has posed challenges for many nonprofits this year, there are still plenty of ways to safely donate your time, talent and treasure to the community. Check in with nonprofits in your area to learn more how you can help this season.

If you find that your symptoms are serious or last more than a few weeks, you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD). According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD is a type of depression impacted by changes in seasons. Those suffering from SAD may not enjoy things that they used to, withdraw socially, feel anxious or irritable, and have trouble sleeping. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, reach out to your doctor for a medical exam and treatment options. If you need immediate help, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), is a free, confidential resource that operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Be sure to monitor your mood and take care of yourself this holiday season. As we move into a new year, it is my wish that we all spread kindness and experience good health, no matter what 2021 has in store for us.

Dr. Joseph R. CunninghamJoseph R. Cunningham, M.D. is the president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma, a Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company.

(For more Office Visit columns by Dr. Cunningham, visit The Journal Record.) 

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