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Weather The Changes Of Winter Weather

by Kirby Lindsay, posted 23 November 2011

 

With fall ick quickly giving way to winter worse, the lack of light can bring some spirits down. Photo by K. Lindsay, Nov 2011

As the cold and wet have settled in to stay, have winter blues got you in a funk?

As fall transitions into winter, many people find their habits, interests, and attitudes sink along with the temperature, and the changes in the quality, and quantity, of daylight reflect a darkness of mind and spirit.

“I think people are severely affected by light,” admitted Dr. Brad Lichtenstein, a Naturopathic Physician with Bastyr.  He suggested our circadian rhythms change as the seasons advance, with some people being “more sensitive to those changes than others.”

Winter’s Natural Effect

Dr. Lichtenstein serves as a core faculty member in the Department of Counseling and Health Psychology at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health, on Stone Way.  With a passion for homeopathy and mind-body medicine, he has studied biofeedback, breath work, meditation, yoga therapy and energetic bodywork.  At the Center he supervises the counseling shifts of Bastyr University students, and teaches classes at Bastyr in everything from mindbody techniques for stress reduction to naturopathic medicine in historical context.

Sprinting south for some sun can help spirits soar. Cabo San Lucas in Sep 2007. Photo by K. Lindsay

As a Naturopathic Doctor, he acknowledges the behavioral and mood changes that can come with winter, but does not see them as a disorder or a pathology.  For most people, he encourages listening to the body’s natural need for staying in and getting a little more rest than during summer months.

The problem, as he sees it, is the expectation in our society – occasionally demanded – for the same behavior and level of activity regardless of the season.  Even as nature demands more dark and cold, our bodies need more rest and less social activity, and as Dr. Lichtenstein said, “to pathologize those needs is a problem.”

Wet Seatte weather may depress some, but it does make neon positively pop... Photo by K. Lindsay, Jan 2009

“It is winter,” he pointed out, “we eat differently with the seasons.”  The craving for warm, hearty foods isn’t just a holiday tradition, but a natural reaction.  He referenced a random study – of depression and people who crave ice cream – that showed a desire for cold foods that could numb uncomfortable feelings.  Cravings for Lamb’s Stew or Sweet Potato Pot Pie might be the body’s desire for comfort and calm.

Just the same, “to assume we can work the same amount of hours in February as we do in August is the pathology,” Dr. Lichtenstein explained.  Darker, shorter days call our bodies to hibernate, not turn the lights up.

Find A Natural Response

What, you think people move to Florida for the food? Photo by K. Lindsay, Nov 2008

“If you are extremely affected by the weather,” Dr. Lichtenstein has suggested to some patients, “can you move?”  The solution sounds extreme, but Seattle’s cold, wet and grey winters could be too much for some.

Less extreme measures include use of a light box, removal of dusty window screens to allow in more natural light, and, “go out and take a walk,” he suggested.  “About an hour a day, without sunglasses if possible,” Dr. Lichtenstein said, will increase the amount of light that reaches the retinas, “it’s not just about getting your Vitamin D.”

Also, “keeping to a sleep schedule,” he suggested.  Go to bed around the same time every night and get up about the same time every morning to get better, more consistent sleep.

Sufficient sleep can help with a myriad of problems, including appetite.  “Not enough sleep will affect your desire for more high in fat foods,” he explained.

He also recommended developing an exercise schedule, although, “I don’t necessarily mean an intense cardio-vascular workout.”  However, regular exercise can help with blood flow, attitude and, as Dr. Lichtenstein pointed out, “it also affects those hormonal levels.”

When More Help May Be Necessary

When winter gets worse. Photo by K. Lindsay, Dec 2008

Winter mood swings aren’t a pathology, Dr. Lichtenstein explained, but if they can be so severe as to impact daily life, he suggested it would be time to seek more professional help.

Professional help using naturopathic methods will avoid diagnosis of a disorder, Dr. Lichtenstein explained, like Seasonal Affect Disorder (S.A.D.)  Instead, a naturopathic care team will work with the patient to address and support their whole system toward wellness. 

“It is not about fixing something,” he said, “it is about creating an optimal state of living.”  It is about easing dis-ease.  By looking at all factors, including appetite, sleep, stress, etc., a holistic path can be taken toward better health facilitating the natural healing of body, and mind.

Sometimes just a vacation from the winter ick can do the trick. Photo of Marmaris, Turkey in 2005 by K. Lindsay

“Counseling is in our scope,” Dr. Lichtenstein said, if a patient needs psycho-emotional assistance – but that wouldn’t necessarily be the first, or the only, measure taken towards wellness.

Those interested in seeking help through natural medicine, or simply learning more, can contact the front desk at Bastyr to make an appointment with a .  However, Dr. Lichtenstein did suggest first taking a personal survey.  “It’s normal that they have less energy,” he observed, “and stay inside.”  The first step toward health might be as simple as letting the body, and mind, have what it wants.


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©2011 Kirby Lindsay.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.

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