Fighting the Wintertime Blues

Cold winter days do not have to mean dealing with the depression that comes with seasonal affective disorder. Columnist Ann Brennan shares how she fought back and now enjoys Maryland winters.

It is cold outside. It is the kind of cold that has many of us avoiding the outdoors at all costs, moving from car to house or office as quickly as possible. And if we are exercising at all, it is in our homes or at a gym. 

For most of us, the winter months can mean putting on weight and losing the conditioning we have built up over the rest of the year. Worse still it can mean depression and moodiness brought on by seasonal affective disorder (SAD). 

According to Medicine Net, “your mood is influenced by a complex web of relationships between sunlight, melatonin (the sleep hormone) and serotonin (the hormone associated with wakefulness and elevated mood). As darkness falls, your melatonin levels naturally increase. And as the morning light emerges, melatonin levels decrease.”

This hormonal imbalance can lead to the depression and moodiness many of us suffer with throughout the winter.

Though there are hormone therapies for extreme cases, many people believe that the answer lies in getting outside more often. People in the fitness community believe that combining exercise with exposure to the sunlight can be an even more effective way of staving off SAD.

But, we are still stuck with the cold, windy days. How do we overcome the discomfort and still let a little sunshine into our lives?

The first trick is to alter our timetables a bit. If you are used to getting your workout in first thing in the morning or after work in the evening, either move it all together to your lunch hour or use you lunch hour to add an long walk to your routine. In the beginning you may find it easier to have a destination walk in mind, something to look forward to as opposed to walking in your office park or down residential streets. Lake Artemesia, the University of Maryland and Buddy Attick Lake are beautiful walking locations throughout the year. The College Park campus has the added benefit of being well shoveled even on the snowiest of days.

The lunchtime sun will bring some warmth, but on the coldest days, you may need more than timing to get you out the door for your daily dose of sunshine.  The biggest key to getting outside on those cold winter days is in dressing for the weather. Mittens, hats and coats are a must, but you may want to visit a store like REI or Hudson Trail Outfitters for wool socks and boots.

As a Southern transplant, my first winters in Maryland were the most depressing of my life. Because I had never owned a coat, much less gloves or winter hats, I didn’t understand the difference proper winter clothes would make. These days though, with my snow pants and long underwear, I may be the most overdressed of my friends, but I also find that I spend much more time outside than ever before, and coincidence or not, I find that I no longer suffer with SAD.


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