Ward Off the ‘Winter Blues’

Five ways to beat gloomy moods during the winter season

When Julie Kosey wakes up in the morning, she drinks hot water with lemon and diffuses citrus oils in her home to surround herself with an uplifting scent.Even though the weather may be cold and gray outside, Kosey, a mindfulness instructor and integrative health coach with Duke Integrative Medicine, said she maintains positivity during the winter by taking time in the morning to check in with herself, both mentally and physically.“If you pull up the blinds and you have a really gray, bleak kind of day, it’s easy to think it’s going to stay that way or feel like it lingers,” Kosey said. “Sometimes individuals almost go into hibernation mode. I think we can really use this season as a season of restoration and for planting some new seeds for ourselves.”The ‘winter blues,’ as they’re termed, may cause apathy and irritability, as well as oversleeping, overeating and less energy, health experts say. About 10 to 20 percent of Americans may suffer from mild symptoms associated with the winter blues, but seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a more intense version of depression during the winter months, and about 11 million Americans suffer from SAD. Duke professionals share five tips on how a healthy mind, balanced diet and solid exercise routine can help combat negativity and depression during the winter season, which ends March 20 with the first day of spring:Cover the essentialsAm I angry? Lonely? Tired? Hungry? Terry Nicotra, assistant director of Duke’s Personal Assistance Service (PAS), said those wrestling with the winter blues should ask themselves these four questions and reflect on why they’re feeling down.|“If someone is in a downcast mood or has the winter blues for more days than not during the week, maybe you need to talk to somebody,” Nicotra added. “Sometimes you have to make yourself a priority rather than others or an obligation. Think of yourself first. Don’t be selfish, but self-ful.”Duke staff or faculty members looking for counseling can call PAS, which offers free, short-term counseling sessions to Duke employees and their immediate family members. Call (919) 416-1727 or visit hr.duke.edu/pas.Add sunshine to your dayKosey, the Duke Integrative Medicine mindfulness instructor, said she likes to walk the Al Buehler Trail during lunchtime to get fresh air and sun. Health experts say lack of sunlight during winter months may throw off a person’s internal clock, which can lead to feelings of depression. On and nearby Duke campus, there are three major walking trails. The East Campus gravel path is 1.7 miles long, and the main loop of West Campus’ Al Buehler Trail is 2.9 miles. Duke Forest has 75 miles of roads and trails that cut through its 7,000 acres.  Get moving, try new hobbiesJulie Joyner, senior manager of LIVE FOR LIFE, Duke’s employee wellness program, just started an evening photography class at Durham Technical Community College.She said the weekly class gets her out of the house at a time when she’d not be very active. “If you get home, you’re done in. Game over,” Joyner said. “So you might have to change up your routine a little bit.”She suggests trying out a new hobby or regularly going to the gym. Hobby or fitness classes hold people accountable when it comes to attendance, she said. Keep your social network strongMaintaining a strong social support system can help prevent major symptoms of depression, which are feelings of isolation, said Nicotra, the assistant director with PAS.Instead of staying in every night and watching TV, for example, modify routines by grabbing coffee with a friend or going to a movie, which can help improve a gloomy mood.Surround yourself with colleagues, loved ones and friends who also help think of creative ways to meet up, even when the weather isn’t cooperating.“When you’re engaged with others, there’s less self-rumination about maybe some of the unhappy things that are occurring in your life in the present moment,” Nicotra said. “Having friends, having social connections helps us feel wanted, that we belong someplace, and that we do have importance.”Show curiosity about your surroundingsInstead of walking straight into the office with blinders on in the morning, drops of rain hitting a jacket, sun peering out of the gray clouds and the sound of a rainstorm can bring important detail into a person’s day.Kosey, the mindfulness instructor and integrative health coach with Duke Integrative Medicine, encourages her patients to interrupt their racing minds by paying close attention to the present moment and not focus on the regrets of the past or the anxieties of the future. “When we come back to paying attention with curiosity in the present moment, then it gets us out of our heads and we can let go of thoughts that really drag us down,” Kosey said.