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Fighting the winter blahs

Yes, on a chilly winter day it can feel really good to curl up with a good book or binge on that favorite TV series. While such activities are enjoyable, they may leave you feeling worse if not balanced with other, more active parts of your life.

The “winter blahs,” or “winter blues,” are feelings of being depressed about the shorter days, colder weather, gray skies and fewer opportunities to be outdoors for fresh air and exercise. In most parts of the country winter means we have to make a real effort to go outside.

And so we reach for that book or that TV clicker once again. Tempting, yes, but only in moderation.

Our physical activity level affects our well-being in a variety of ways. One way is the impact it can have on our waistline. Winter is the most common time to add a few pounds. We’re often less active but usually don’t really change our eating habits. The resulting weight gain doesn’t improve anyone’s mood.

There is also a very real form of clinical depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly referred to as SAD. Experts aren’t sure of its exact cause, but SAD seems to be linked to the reduced amount of sunlight in the winter. It can run the gambit from mild feelings of sadness to extreme depression that can lead to mood swings, anxiety, sleep problems and even suicidal thoughts.

While mild cases of SAD can be helped by getting more outdoor time in the sun, or getting treatments with special lamps that mimic sunlight, more severe cases should be treated by a physician or professional counselor, since that level of depression can involve serious symptoms.

The most effective antidote to the winter blahs is to get regular exercise. An ongoing exercise program provides many physiological benefits, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and several other health issues.

Exercise also improves mental health by increasing self-esteem, overcoming depression, reducing stress, and even improving memory and overall thinking, according to a variety of studies.

So don’t let winter weather get the best of you. Find that warm coat. Slip on a pair of gloves. Go out for a walk every day, or head to the gym if the weather’s too bad, and don’t let the winter blahs win the fight.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit the ACA website at www.counseling.org.