Depression : Don't Be SAD, Beat the Winter Blues

Janae Francis

(May not apply to other forms of depression)

--Increased appetite with weight gain

--Loss of interest in work or other activities

--Less energy and ability to


--Unhappiness and irritability

--Increased sleep


--Sluggish movements

--Social withdrawal

Source: PubMed Health Every year at this time, Tina Kirkham looks at the calendar and starts to tense up.

That's because she knows she's heading into her most difficult part of the season.

"It seems like every year it hits worse," said the mother and nutrition assistant with Utah State University's Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program.

Kirkham, 50, said she has suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder for a long time.

SAD is a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms in a specific part of the year -- either the winter or summer, spring or autumn -- every year, according to Wikipedia.

Medical sites state that the disorder is most common in the winter.

"I have to use a special light lamp in the morning," said Kirkham, who listed a host of steps she takes to try to stay positive.

Among them, Kirkham takes a prescription moodenhancing drug, writes in a mood journal, thinks positive thoughts, takes regular naps and eats well.

"I know to exercise, but some days, I have no motivation. I have to make myself work, and helping others helps myself," she said.

Kirkham knows she is not alone.

Through her life experiences, she has met many who are just like her.

"I think living in Utah and its high altitude makes it worse," she said, also commenting on Utah's bad air quality. "I also find that creative people suffer the most in my dealings with people I work with."

Dianna Abel, a psychologist and director of the Counseling Service Center at Weber State University, said anxiety and depression are by far the largest two categories students who seek help fall into.

"These truly do get worse during the winter," she said.

Like Kirkham, Abel also pointed to limited exposure to light as a key source of people's mood swings.

"People need to get out and get some sunlight," she said, recommending that those who suffer need to "make time" to make sure this happens.

"They need to get up in the elevation," Abel said, recommending day trips to Park City. "If they can make some time, it will make a difference."

The psychologist said people who notice seasonal depression can help themselves by paying particular attention to the healthy routines they already know are good for them.

She named the same types of behaviors as Kirkham outlined, with the addition of staying away from excessive alcohol.

Abel said one mistake people make is not making time for fun and friends.

Listing ways people can elevate their moods -- things like taking a bubble bath, watching a favorite movie and doing something active like skiing -- Abel said remembering to hang out with friends is also important.

Another suggestion Abel makes is to redirect negative thoughts. She said one thing people do is put a rubber band on their wrist. When they catch themselves having negative thoughts, they flick the rubber band as a way to remind themselves to stop.

Abel also said new research surrounds the role of gratitude in changing people's morale.

"People should take some time at regular intervals to journal those kinds of things," she said about gratitude lists. "If you can bring those things into focus, that would help."

Andrea Widdison, of Hooper, said she has watched as her husband has learned to cope with his "winter blues."

"He works in a building with no windows or natural light, and he starts work before sunrise. He often stays late and arrives home shortly before dark," she said.

"It used to affect him a lot more when he brought his lunch to work and stayed indoors all day. However, he's found that, if he just goes out for lunch every day and gets some natural light, it's considerably better."

But Widdison said all that eating out sometimes can lead to another problem -- winter waistline.


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