BERLIN — For those feeling the “Winter Blues” this season, riding out the gloom until spring isn’t the only option, according to Dr. Jennifer Leggour, Clinical Director at Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services (WYFCS).
Unlike the prolonged, clinical Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), winter blues is an umbrella term used to describe feelings of sadness, lethargy and fatigue commonly experienced in the period after the clocks fall back but before they spring forward.
“It’s mostly just low levels of feeling sad or down or just blah,” explained Leggour. “It’s a lack of motivation, low energy, feeling fatigued, wanting to stay inside and not go out; wanting to hibernate a little bit more.”
There is a big difference between the blues and SAD, however. The winter blues are fleeting and never reach more than mild levels of melancholy. SAD is a clinical disorder that can lead to serious depression, unplanned weight loss or gain and prolonged dissatisfaction with things that used to make you happy.
“You would see a lot of clustering of these symptoms occurring in a serious level for at least two weeks if not more,” said Leggour.
Another indication of a clinical affective disorder is that it “interferes with your functioning,” she added.
The common winter blues wouldn’t fit into that category but despite being much less serious are considerably more common. A number of seasonal factors contribute to the blues, according to Leggour, though many issues are attributed to a lack of sunlight during the winter months. Sunlight provides melatonin, which plays a role in regulating a body’s circadian rhythm and sleep schedule. It also delivers vitamins C and D, both crucial for staying healthy and staving off feelings of fatigue.
Because there are less hours of daylight during the winter and because the cold and weather often discourages time outdoors, Leggour explained that for most people exposure to sunlight plummets between December and March. This can be counteracted by taking the necessary vitamins as over the counter supplements or spending time in rooms lit by full-spectrum light bulbs such as those used by the owners of some pets, usually reptiles.
However, in many ways there’s no substitute for the original and Leggour recommends controlled exposure to sunlight every day during the winter.
“You should be outside for about 20 minutes a day with no sunglasses,” she said, adding that it also helps to open blinds and curtains in a room while the sun is shining.
Diet and exercise can also be used to manage the winter blues.
“Exercise is my favorite recommendation,” Leggour said. “Obviously it gets people moving, it gets people outside sometimes, and it gets happy chemicals going in your body.”
Setting goals or sticking to resolutions can also battle the blues as they provide milestones that can be reached on a regular basis, boosting self-esteem. People should socialize regularly as well and when it comes to the weather, Leggour recommends “embracing the season.”
“Don’t say ‘I hate winter, I can’t wait for summer,’” she said.
While the Eastern Shore isn’t known for its skiing or snowfall, Leggour suggests making the best out of whatever the weather provides and finding the silver linings, like the cold clearing out the crowds from the beach and Boardwalk.
With keeping up regular socialization, Leggour revealed that WYFCS is planning on a “Couples Enrichment Workshop” beginning on Tuesday, March 12 at 6 p.m. and running for four consecutive Tuesdays. Even for couples with no complaints she said the experience will be valuable.
“It’ll be some really healthy skills you can learn and help you enhance your relationship,” she said.