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Gene Rebeck

Winning Over the Winter Blues

Gray days don't have to bring you down. Here are some ways to put some spring in your step.

Autumn can be a delightful season. Fall colors. Cool air. Leaves crunching under your feet. But it's also a fleeting, transitional time. The days get shorter and the nights turn from crisp to chilly, offering a reminder that winter is on its way. That can be a challenge for many of us. Just the thought of cold weather and gloomy days can have a powerful effect on our minds and moods. When winter finally blows in, it can lead to a type of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

But there's good news. You don't have to wait for the robins and rosebuds to return to shed the winter blues. There are steps you can take to make dark, gray days a bit brighter.

Lighten up

It's not unusual to feel a bit glum on cloudy days or when the winter sun goes down before 5 p.m. But if the feeling lingers for more than a week or two, SAD might be the culprit. By some estimates, 10% to 20% of Americans suffer from it each year. And while researchers are split on SAD's exact causes, many agree that lack of sunlight is a major factor. Fewer hours of daylight can lead to a dip in serotonin, the brain chemical that affects mood.

Keep moving

We all know regular exercise is essential to our physical and mental well-being. How essential? A 2018 study by the National Institute of Mental Health and Johns Hopkins University showed that running for 15 minutes or walking for 60 minutes a day significantly cuts the risk of major depression.

But, it's not always easy to put in that time, especially when it's cold, windy, and dark outside. So consider starting slowly. A 10- to 20-minute walk is a simple way to energize your heart, muscles, and mind. And if you're stuck inside, consider some indoor, home-based exercise. Indoor walks, stair-climbing, and even vigorous cleaning can help beef up your heart and muscles — and pump up your mood.

Get — and keep — in touch

Winter is traditionally the time when we hunker down at home. But being apart from friends and family can make us feel more lonely, and more down. That's where digital technologies such as FaceTime, Zoom, and Skype can help. Hearing loved ones' voices and seeing their faces can provide a spiritual lift. And by the way: Many churches and synagogues now offer online services to help you stay connected with your faith community.

Talk to your doc

If you're struggling, don't ignore the feelings. Don't try to tough it out, and don't blame yourself. A doctor or other provider can offer guidance to help you keep moving and upbeat. Virtual care visits are often also available if you're not able to do an in-person appointment.

Gene Rebeck is a Duluth, Minnesota-based freelance writer.