Depression : How to Cope When Persistent Storms Lead to Fatigue

This winter has been rough. Frequent snow and ice storms have left many people feeling fatigued, along with increased stress, anxiety and depression. Many have lamented that they've had enough.

But the weather is out of your control, as is what happens after the sky dumps 14 inches of snow or a sheet of ice on York County. Experts say a lack of control and an uptick in uncertainty breed winter angst.

Dr. Jean Pollack, a psychologist with Innovative Counseling Services Inc. in Hanover, said it's normal to feel slightly more fatigued during winter, especially during snowstorms. She said a lack of Vitamin D from sunlight has a significant effect on tiredness. Air pressure and precipitation also play a role. She said decreased Vitamin D can lower serotonin -- a neurotransmitter that regulates mood -- in the brain.

Pollack said winter weather interrupts social activity and work, which can cause depression from isolation and anxiety from financial strain. Sickness also can create anxiety and depression.

She said many people who are anxious are constantly on the go, and winter weather forces them to slow down, which might make them feel more anxious.

Jayne Wildasin, director of crisis intervention for TrueNorth Wellness Services in York, said small amounts of anxiety generated by weather can be beneficial for people because it motivates them to get things done. However, back-to-back storms can lead to more consistent stress, which can be detrimental for people who suffer from anxiety disorders, depression and seasonal affective disorder.

"Stress in small doses is good," she said. "Stress in large doses can be physically harmful." Wildasin said TrueNorth's crisis hot line has received more callers recently. She said some callers were suicidal because of their mental illness and the weather, whereas others just needed a chance to vent.

Pollack said the persistent winter weather has prevented her patients from attending therapy as often, and without that outlet, their symptoms might build up. Also, she said, people who manage their anxiety or depression by exercise -- which releases endorphins -- or by being social might have difficulty getting that release.

Wildasin said stress from winter weather can be cumulative, continuing to build with each storm. And this winter hasn't granted much of a reprieve.

"People start feeling as if, 'When is it going to end?'" she said. "We can't control when the snow comes and when it stops."

How to cope

Don't let harsh winter weather get the best of your mental health. Here's how to cope. --Be proactive. Instead of focusing on how you can't will the snow from burying your car, Wildasin said, focus on what you can control, such as preparing for the storm or shoveling your sidewalks.

--Don't isolate yourself. Although you might not feel like getting off the couch this weekend, hibernating might only hurt you more. "It really does increase your symptoms of depression and loneliness, Wildasin said. Pollack said it's important to stay connected with people, even if it's through social media.

--Think positive. Pollack said depressed people tend to think negatively. Even as you acknowledge the financial hardship, try to focus on a more positive aspect, such as that it's family time.

--Stay busy. When you're cooped up inside, distract yourself with a home project, such as cleaning out a closet. "Find something that will give you that personal sense of satisfaction," she said. Or do something relaxing, such as reading or listening to music.

--Eat healthy and exercise. Pollack recommended sprucing up your diet to enhance your mood. Opt for healthy carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes, and stay away from refined carbohydrates.

--Seek help. If the stress, anxiety and depression you feel from winter weather starts to feel unmanageable, contact a mental health professional.

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. Many people experience symptoms starting in the fall and continuing into the winter. The disorder zaps one's energy and increases moodiness.

About 6 percent of the U.S. population, primarily in northern climates, suffers from SAD. Another 14 percent of American adults experience a lesser form of seasonal mood changes, known as winter blues.

Symptoms for winter-onset SAD include depression, hopelessness, anxiety, loss of energy, heavy feeling in arms or legs, social withdrawal, oversleeping, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, appetite changes -- especially craving foods that are high in carbohydrates -- weight gain and difficulty concentrating. Treatment includes light therapy, psychotherapy and medications.

Source: The Mayo Clinic, peer-reviewed journal Psychiatry MMC
©2014 York Daily Record (York, Pa.)
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