January can be a challenging month for just about anyone, at any age, but sometimes, for those of us 50+ “mature adults” the weather can really leave us feeling “under the weather.” I’m not really talking about cold and flu season (although that’s problematic too) but rather, about weather so cold it leaves us feeling blue – often both literally and figuratively! If you’re an Amintro member from just about anywhere across Canada, the American East Coast or the Mid-West, chances are you’re experiencing some not so pleasant weather right now. If so, we invite you to cozy up to your computer, snuggle under a warm blanket and read these top tips on how not to fall victim to the winter blues.
The weather “blues” are a little easier to combat than the depression blues. Most experts agree on some fairly common safety tips when it comes to enjoying outdoor activities both planned and unplanned. While our focus at Amintro is on those 50+, the truth is, these tips are good for just about anyone!
- Dress appropriately for the weather. You won’t need the most expensive coat on the market but this isn’t a time for budget shopping either. Look for a well-made coat that’s comfortable, allows you to have free range of movement, has a hood for particularly blustery weather and that has zippers or snaps that are easy for you to manage even when the cold is affecting your arthritis. Of course down is a warm material, possibly even the warmest but polyester is good at wicking away moisture and wool is always a good choice. Many coats (and boots and gloves too) now come with specific temperature ratings – use those as a guideline when you shop.
- Limit your exposure. If you have a large driveway full of snow to shovel, plan to do it in stages taking breaks in between to warm up and to stay hydrated. Snow often takes hours to accumulate, you don’t have to shovel it all away in just half an hour. Your muscles, back and heart will also thank you if you take time to do this task.
- Planning an outing like skating or skiing? Again – make sure you have dressed appropriately and you take frequent breaks in between to stay warm and nourish yourself. Frequent small snack breaks will keep your energy level high and your body warm! Dress in layers and consider carrying around some of those portable hand/toe warmers too. Sunglasses are a must and yes, even sunscreen!
- Unintended exposure. Driving anywhere in winter requires that you be prepared. Have an emergency kit in your car that includes a thermal blanket, a candle, non-perishable snacks and some water, batteries, a flashlight, ice scraper and a shovel. Jumper cables and even an extra pair of gloves, a hat and/or boots are also a good idea and make sure your phone is fully charged as often as possible before you leave the house so you can call for help if needed.
This type of “blue” feeling is sometimes a little harder to deal with. If you’re not a big fan of winter, even the good old-fashioned general advice about getting some fresh air and going for a walk will be challenging. Spa vacations, heading down South and escaping the cold are just not in the budget for many of us. Combined with lousy, cold weather – some folks have a natural tendency toward depression and weather simply aggravates an already aggravating condition. What’s a person to do? Consider some of these expert recommended coping strategies.
Let there be light!
- Light therapy works. If you are suffering from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) a light therapy lamp might be just the thing to help shift those winter blues. Speak with your doctor first but here are some of the advantages:
- A light therapy box mimics outdoor light. Researchers believe this type of light causes a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood and eases other symptoms of SAD.
- Generally, the light box should:
- Provide an exposure to 10,000 lux of light
- Emit as little UV light as possible
- Typical recommendations include using the light box:
- Within the first hour of waking up in the morning
- For about 20 to 30 minutes
- At a distance of about 16 to 24 inches (41 to 61 cm) from the face
- With eyes open, but not looking directly at the light
Often, people prescribed a light therapy lamp (or box) will use it while enjoying their morning coffee, catching up on emails or when they make phone calls. If this sounds like something you think might benefit you, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss.
What else can you do?
- Make small changes. Sometimes just changing your daily routine a little bit is enough to provide you with a new perspective. Try small alterations to your diet, incorporating a healthier approach to eating, perhaps drinking one less cup of coffee a day or even switching to decaf. Consider possibly changing the times that you eat. When you’re feeling blue is not necessarily the best time to try and make big, life-altering changes but a series of small changes can be beneficial.
- Meal prep. Cooking for one or two (as is sometimes the case when we are 50+ and the kids have “flown the coop”) is often more challenging. Make a change to your routine and plan to cook several meals all at once, freezing them and freeing up your time to try something new like joining a club, volunteering or exercise. Having meals that are healthy and made ahead frees you up to do other things that might help lighten your mood and encourage you to meet new people.
- Depression and drugs – it’s ok. If you’ve tried alternative therapies (and even if you haven’t!) give yourself permission to take medication. Our mental well-being is as important as our physical and it has long been proven that depression is often caused by a series of factors (not just the weather!) including low serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical that helps regulate mood, appetite, sleep, memory and more. If you needed a medication to regulate your blood pressure or diabetes you would take it so why wouldn’t you take a medication to help regulate your mood? Have a discussion with your doctor about whether this is the “winter blues” or something worse and then make a treatment plan you can both agree on.
- Take a Break. Even if somewhere warm isn’t in your budget, do something closer to home to treat yourself to a change. If you love music, perhaps an afternoon performance of the symphony or art lovers could plan a stroll through your local art museum. Try to think “outside of the box,” perhaps even going to a matinee will be enough to get you out of the house.
- Finally, talk to someone! There are many forms of therapy available when you are living with depression. Psychologists, psychiatrists, behavioural therapy, art therapy, your family doctor – there are support agencies both religious and non-denominational and even distress lines you can call. Don’t suffer in silence. If “the blues” have taken their toll on you, reach out – help is literally only a phone call away.
It’s OK to take some downtime.
For the record, we will end with these thoughts on winter which I won’t lie, is most definitely not my favourite season. If I refer back to the very first paragraph of this article, I don’t see anything wrong with “beating the blues” by simply snuggling up under a cozy, warm blanket, in front of a fireplace (real or fake I don’t care) and reading a good book with a glass of red wine close at hand. This is often the only “therapy” I need but like many of us – I just need to give myself permission to do it. It’s ok to take some downtime just for you – even if you don’t have the blues!
By Sheralyn Roman