The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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February 10, 2014

Experts: Activity key to managing seasonal blues

— If you have grown weary of these cold, gray, snowy days, you’re not alone.

“This is one of the times of the year when people suffer from depression,” said Chris Sloan, lead pastor at Christ’s Community United Methodist Church in Joplin. “They’re paying off bills that they spent too much on Christmas; heat and utilities are higher, so the bills just come. Football is over; the holidays are over. In February, there’s not much to look forward to except cold and snow.”

While depression often can flare up during the winter months, even people who aren’t diagnosed with a mood disorder can feel like they’re battling the blues this time of year, according to local mental health professionals.

“What is probably the problem for most of us is simply the fact that it is so cold, and it seems like there’s not an end in sight, and once we start to get into that mindset, we start to feel a little bit hopeless about the situation,” said Eric Copeland, a clinical psychologist with Mercy Hospital in Joplin.

Dale Wilkinson, a psychologist with Ozark Center, the behavioral health branch of Freeman Health System, said some people are diagnosed with depression, which can ebb and flow with seasonal patterns, but others suffer from what they call “cabin fever.” Gray days and inclement weather can force people into isolation, making them feel lethargic, listless or unmotivated, he said.

And if you feel dragged down simply by the lack of warmth and sunlight, you’re not imagining things: The sun’s rays this time of year in this region are low, and there are fewer hours of daylight than during the summer, said Mike Griffin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Springfield.

Wilkinson said activity — whether in the form of exercise in a fitness center or completing household chores such as vacuuming — is key to fighting the winter blahs.

“I don’t know that we can prevent it, but we might reduce the symptoms of it by activity,” he said. “The more active we get, the less we experience this (depression).”

Copeland suggested making a schedule of things to do — and sticking to it. If you’re homebound because of cold or wintry weather, that schedule can consist of small things, such as cleaning a room of the house, taking your dog for a long walk or digging old board games out of the closet to play with your children, he said.

“I think sometimes just reminding yourself that it (winter) is going to pass can help, too,” he said. “It’s hard to really look past it when you’re stuck in it ... but sometimes just looking forward and planning for some future things to do can be good, too.”

Sloan, the Joplin pastor, said he recently spoke on the subject of seasonal depression to his congregation, recommending exercise, laughter and being around uplifting people as potentially helpful antidotes. He also suggested that people pray and attend worship services, if they feel comfortable doing so; volunteer or find a way to help others; and talk to someone they trust.

And good news is on the way: A warming trend is expected this week, with high temperatures predicted to be in the mid- to upper 50s by the weekend along with sunny skies that should melt any remaining snow and ice, Griffin said.

“It’s definitely a nice thaw coming for the end of the week,” he said.

Griffin said it’s not uncommon for this region to receive one last snowfall in late February or early March, but the harshest weather of the winter might finally be on its way out.

“We are in the upward side,” he said. “Things are looking brighter.”



‘Normal’

OZARK CENTER PSYCHOLOGIST DALE WILKINSON said it’s not unusual for many people during the cold winter months to experience some symptoms of lethargy or depression that aren’t significant enough to be considered a disorder. “It’s nothing abnormal,” he said. “It’s a normal part of just us living in our world.”

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