The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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January 10, 2013

Doctors give tips on how to battle winter blues

CLINTON — Packing up Christmas decorations and trudging through dark, cold winter days can leave some of us with a case of the winter blues.

How do you get through it and how can you tell when it is more serious than post-holiday stress?

Local mental health experts weigh in on how to survive the bitter winter months.

“Ten percent of people experience depression at some point in their lives and 5 percent experience life-long chronic depression,” Bridgeview Clinical Psychologist John Keraus said.

Signs of major depression include feeling empty, avoiding people, constantly feeling tired, lack of motivation and concentration and feeling hopeless.

Other physical symptoms include changes in sleep and appetite. Biologically the brain slows down, often encouraging the afflicted to be more lethargic and uninterested in things they used to enjoy, according to Keraus.

Disrupted schedules, overeating and stress during the holidays can carry through and leave some feeling off kilter long after the decorations are packed.

“We really get off our schedules during the holidays, eating too much and changing our sleep patterns,” Cornerstone Wellness Psychologist Tom Millard said. “For those who have depression, symptoms tend to exasperate during this time of year.”

There are many ways to find your way out of the funk and into the light. One of the most important tips is to get out and socialize, even though it may sound like the last thing you want to do.

“It’s so helpful to talk to someone, often outside the situation,” Keraus said. “Being around people is important, even though you might feel like being alone.”

Several of the best ways to combat depression include living a more balanced health lifestyle. Getting out and active and getting nutrition on track can help cut back on symptoms. Keraus recommends doing the opposite of what your body is telling you to do.

“The most important thing to do is get out and challenge the natural urges of depression,” Keraus said.

Community service has also been shown to help, according to Keraus. Whether it be helping other people, getting help yourself or just observing someone helping someone else, it can raise your spirits.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is another mental affliction to watch out for during the winter season. Seasonal affective disorder (also called SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year, often in the winter months. The only way to tell if a patient has SAD is to study history and patterns of depression, according to Keraus. Symptoms can start as early as the fall and may continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Treatment for the seasonal illness includes light therapy along with counseling.

And during this stressful time, how do you mentally stick to those looming New Year’s resolutions? The best plan is to be realistic and specific. Accountability is also key to sticking to goals, by getting friends involved to join the challenge.

“Take small steps, like losing a pound a week, instead of trying to lose 50 pounds,” Keraus said.

Both agree that the key to mental health during this harsh time of year is to get help when needed.

“There are excellent medications available for treating the physical symptoms of depression,” Keraus said. “The best treatment is a combination of counseling and medication.”

The most important part is to keep depression from taking away the joys of life.

“Depression is a thief,” Keraus said. “It steals your energy and the things you love, so you must be active and keep the thief away.”

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