Winter is a time when the days get shorter, the nights get longer, and temperatures dip to their lowest. However, winter is also a time when some dealing with the “winter blues,” and are overcome with tell-tale signs of depression– a medical condition that affects a person’s thoughts and feelings as well as the body, and can be associated with various physical problems in areas such as sleep, appetite, energy, libido, and thinking (Albrecht/Herrick16). The feelings and sensations, or lack thereof, associated with depression may be experienced by a person for any number of reasons specific to the individual and their circumstances. However, depression, which occurs regularly during certain times of the year, and which most typically affects people during the cold, dark, months of winter, is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI, “the classic characteristics of recurrent winter depression include oversleeping, daytime fatigue, carbohydrate craving and weight gain. Additionally, many people may experience other features of depression including decreased sexual interest, lethargy, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, lack of interest in normal activities and decreased socialization.” One might ask why is it that a person becomes more prone to these feelings of depression during winter versus other times of the year. While the onset of SAD symptoms “usually begin in October or November and subside in March or April, in a minority of cases, symptoms occur in the summer rather than winter. There are certain factors (circadian rhythm, serotonin levels, and melatonin levels) that have been identified as influencing the occurrence of SAD and its symptoms, but a specific cause has not yet been identified.
In order to better understand how SAD affects individuals, let’s take a closer look at the three influential factors mentioned above: circadian rhythm, serotonin levels, and melatonin levels. Exposure to decreased light may disrupt the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, which helps us time our wake and sleep cycles, and determines when various important biological processes (ex: sleep, appetite, digestion, etc.) will take place. For instance, most of us are acclimated to how the presence or absence of sunlight influences when we wake up (in the morning), when we are at our most productive (during the day), and when we go to bed (in the evening after the sun has set).
Serotonin, aka “happiness hormone,” is a monoamine neurotransmitter biochemically derived from tryptophan, which regulates intestinal movements, as well as mood, appetite, sleep, and muscle contraction. The less light there is, the lower the production of serotonin, which disrupts the way the neurotransmitter effectively communicates with nerve cells, and leads to symptoms of SAD.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland when it is dark, in order to make us feel sleepy. On the other hand, when there is light, the hypothalamus inhibits production of this hormone, which causes us to feel awake.
In conclusion, the darker days of winter cause the circadian rhythm to be affected by the lowered levels of serotonin, as well as the increased levels of melatonin. The body responds as if it were in pseudo-hibernation mode, and the SAD sufferer feels sleepier, increasingly tired, has less energy, appetite decreases, and mood is dampened. In order to curb and combat the symptoms of SAD, there are effective forms of treatment available, which consist of antidepressants, light therapy, and psychotherapy.
If you or anyone you know may be experiencing SAD, talk with your health care provider, or a qualified professional. For more information regarding SAD, and/or available treatment options, the following local resources are just a phone call away: NAMI (410-884-8691); Howard County Mental Health Authority (410-313-7350); Thrive Center (410-740-3240); Congruent Counseling Services (410-740-8066).
Have you ever told yourself, “Just one more potato chip,” and then proceeded to finish off the entire bag? Or have you bought a box of cookies with the intention of eating them in reasonable portions – and later, finding yourself stressed, eating the entire box in one sitting? I have and you are not alone.
It has been proven that women, more so then men, particularly stress about what and how much they eat. Why do we feel so guilty when we overeat? Personally, some of the reasons I find myself eating more to soothe feelings of anger, boredom, loneliness, and stress (and as a result, end up feeling guilty too). This is something I struggle with on a regular basis and it becomes a vicious cycle. Once I have overeaten for the day, I feel guilty and continue to overeat thinking, “What’s the point? I’ve already eaten poorly today.”
According to Lisa Elaine Held from an article that was published in Prevention magazine in May 2012, “Media messaging doesn’t help. Women’s magazine headlines are full of “guilt-free” burgers, snacks, and desserts. The underlying message is clear: If the foods in this article are guilt-free, then those others you’re eating are guilt-y.” So, how do we distinguish between eating as a source of nourishment and emotional eating?
Another important question to consider is, “Are certain foods physically addictive?” According to The Blood Sugar Solution 10-day Detox Diet by Mark Hyman, MD, “Foods that spike blood sugar are biologically addictive. So yes, food addiction is very real. It’s the root cause why so many people are overweight and sick. They are stuck in a viscous cycle of cravings.” I know that once I’ve gotten a taste of something sweet, there’s no doubt in my mind that the phenomenon of craving is overpowering and hard to shake.
“For some people giving up certain foods proves as difficult as it may be for an addict to give up alcohol or drugs. The same components of addiction are present and the brain may be affected in the same way. For many people their relationship with food is comparable to that of a drug user’s with drugs,” states Kimberly Steele, who is a bariatric surgeon at The Johns Hopkins Center for Bariatric Surgery.
What can we do to separate food with emotions? Ask ourselves some honest questions. I think the best question to ask yourself is, “Am I physically hungry or am I trying to fill some emotional need with food?” What has worked for me, is maintaining a daily food diary. I’m honest in my reporting, even when I feel I have “messed up” that day with overeating or eating junk food. This helps me see just how food and my emotions are intertwined. I know that this may not work for everyone, but maybe we should cut ourselves a break and try to separate food and guilt.
As we approach the holiday season, many of us experience extra stress in our lives. Some of our stress is due to the hectic schedules that we endure, family situations, staying healthy and eating well, or traveling. So, what can you do to lessen your stress and enjoy the holidays this year?
For stressful family situations, I recommend Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin and A is for Attitude by Patricia Russell-McCloud.
If staying fit and eating well are bothering you, check out: Breaking the Food Seduction by Dr. Neal Barnard, 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food by Susan Albers, Psy.D., Crave by Cynthia M. Bulik, Ph.D., and Eating Well for Optimum Health: The Essential Guide to Food, Diet, and Nutrition.
If travel is a concern (or while you’re waiting at the airport), try some of our new services at hclibrary.org. Zinio is great for reading magazines, while Hoopla has music, audiobooks, television, and movies available. What a stress-free way to enjoy those long hours at the airport or while riding in a car! I love getting my favorite magazine through Zinio to read on my tablet.
Lastly, try journaling. Journaling is a wonderful way to relieve stress. I keep a gratitude journal beside my bed. Every night, I write five things in my journal that I am grateful for that day. I found that it helps me to sleep better at night, reduces my stress while making me more gracious for many of life’s blessings that I experience every day.
Remember, enjoy the upcoming season while building those memories to cherish with friends, family, and loved ones. Until we meet again, happy trails!
She called him “beast.”
He was a noble Bernese Mountain Dog, and next to her new husband, the love of Laurel Braitman’s life.
But after only a few months, the big dog she named Oliver, began to exhibit a series of profound behaviors: snapping at invisible flies, licking his paws into sodden masses, and eventually jumping out a third-story window – his unknown demons chasing close behind.
Serious medication and intense intervention were stepped up, but in the end Oliver succumbed to both emotional and physical trauma. Braitman, unlike her husband, was inconsolable, and soon his curious lack of empathy signaled a tipping point in the marriage.
Alone, Braitman now sought serious closure and catharsis: What exactly did Oliver feel or perceive that impaired his ability to function normally? And why the heck was it so eerily close to what humans feel? Braitman, a doctor of medical history, began to buttonhole the experts – animal psychologists, ethologists — even an animal trainer or two. Do we share an underlying brain structure that not only “exists across animal species,” but can similarly malfunction when an emotional state is compromised? More importantly, can understanding animal behavior benefit our own – even if we don’t speak the same language? The answers, Braitman found, were in the nine phyla of the animal kingdom.
From the adrenaline-charged cervidae for example. When pursued by predators, deer experience a blood-pressure spike not dissimilar to the white-coat hypertension I know I feel in a doctor’s office.
To the laws of attraction: Who knew bees were as picky about the flowers they pollinate as humans browsing online dating profiles? And then there are the giggling rats, the embarrassed octopus, and the bullied bonobo with PTSD. What, you might ask, was 17th century philosopher, Rene Descartes thinking when he arrogantly pronounced all beasts as “nothing more than automatons”?
Generous and engaging, Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves will have readers looking in the mirror more than once.
Curious George would give this one two opposable thumbs up.
Saturday, November 8, 2:00 p.m. I’m Going to be a Big Brother or Sister. Prepare for the arrival of a baby in this class at the Central Branch for new siblings. Enjoy stories, activities, and bring a favorite doll or stuffed animal to practice holding a baby. Resources for parents, too. Well & Wise event. Families; 30 – 45 min. Tickets available at Children’s Desk 15 minutes before class.
Saturday, November 8, 2:00-4:00 p.m. Time for a Spa-liday. Need to relax before the holidays? Paint your nails, learn relaxation techniques, listen to soothing music, and make spa treats such as coconut oil hand scrub, bath fizzies, and glycerin soap scrubbies at the Savage Branch. Recipes and ingredients provided. Ages 8-13. Register online or by calling 410.313.0760.
Monday, November 10, 10:00-12:00 p.m. Blood Pressure Screening. Free, walk-in blood pressure screening and monitoring at the Savage Branch offered by Howard County General Hospital: a Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. No registration required.
Monday, November 4, 10:15 & 11:15 a.m. Turkey Twist and Shout. Sing and shake your turkey tail to tasty tunes at the Elkridge Branch! Ages 2-5 with adult; 30 min. No registration required.
Thursday, November 13, 1:00 p.m. A World of Kindness. CCome to the East Columbia Branch and celebrate random acts of kindness. Share books, songs, and make a craft. Choose Civility event. Ages 3-5; 30 min. Tickets available at Children’s Desk 15 minutes before class.
Wednesday, Nov. 19, 7 to 9 p.m. Happiest Baby on the Block in Howard County General Hospital’s Wellness Center. Learn successful techniques that can quickly soothe your crying newborn and promote a more restful sleep for your infant. Parent kits are included in the $50 couple fee.
Thursday, Nov. 20, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Great American Smokeout in the Howard County General Hospital lobby: includes information and literature to help you stop smoking. Free event.
My son called me from college this past Sunday to ask me how he was going to find the time to take his bike to the shop to get fixed. He was already overwhelmed with classes, work, and applying to graduate school. How was he supposed to find the time to do everything that he needed to do? I did not have any easy answer for him, and I most certainly did not have an answer he wanted to hear at the time. About an hour later my son called again, and said he no longer needed to take the bike to the shop because while he was driving around campus, trying to find a free place to park, he drove into a parking garage with the bike on top of the car! He had forgotten that the broken bike, the same one we had talked about less than an hour ago, was still on top of the car! I think we can all relate to this story. I am sure most of us feel like there is never enough time to do everything we need to do. We try to do more than one thing at a time, and we wind up not doing anything well. Our to-do lists are never-ending. How can we live saner lives?
The first thing we all need to do is to take time for life. The world is not going to stop so we can finish our to-do lists. When my four children were younger my mantra was “we can only do our best and our best is not the same as someone else’s best, but as long as it is our best it is good enough.” Yes, sometimes my kids had to hand in papers printed in blue or even pink ink because our black ink cartridge had run out and all the stores were closed, but what was important was that the assignment was done and printed. We did our best with what we had at the time. At home and at work, we need to give ourselves permission not to have to do it all. We can start doing this by setting realistic expectations and be willing to realign those expectations, as needed.
It is not easy to find time in the day for ourselves. Advances in technology have made our lives easier, but those same advances have also made our lives more stressful. We are now “available” 24/7 to answer questions from work, school, family, and friends. Brigid Schulte in her book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time says in chapter 7 there are three questions that drive much of the unending overwhelmedness: How much is enough? When is it good enough? How will I know? These questions are addressed in her book. “Great,” you are thinking, “but when am I going to have time to read a book?” Luckily for you Brigid Schulte will be at HCLS’s Miller Branch on Friday, November 7 at 7pm.
Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic, and author of 2014 New York Times bestseller My Age of Anxiety: Fear Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind will also be there. Together they will discuss their most recent works. You can register for Scott Stossel and Brigid Schulte in Conversation online at hclibrary.org, by phone at 410-313-1950, or in person at any branch. Their books are availablefor borrowing at the library. Books will also be available for purchase and signing at the event.
We all need to make time for ourselves and what is important to us, which is why I am going to put attending this event on the top of my to-do list. I made a choice to find the time to read Brigid’s book and now I am making the choice to find the time to read Scott’s book this week. It will take courage to make the tough choices needed so we can be healthier both physically and psychologically. I do not want to wait until it is too late to live a good life. Do you?