The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 12, 2014

Snow and other four-letter words:

11 ways to survive the winter doldrums

By Lisa Shrewsberry (with Hamlet Smith, MSW, LICSW, DCSW)
Lifestyles Editor

— That your weather forecast can be connected to your mental health is an established fact. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) diagnosis or not, the average Joe and Jane can find cold snaps like the one America recently survived down-right distressing.

This Jan. 6, coincidentally dubbed “Blue Monday” by British researchers evaluating depression, saw seratonin levels racing thermometers to hit rock bottom as an arctic vortex shattered record low temperatures. Add to the Siberian absence of sun, harried parents scampering to find child care or experiencing instant HAC promotions — (Home Activities Coordinator) — and the question becomes simple: How can we get through snow days with a little more class than, say, Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”?

“We all know being cooped up at home makes us all a little stir-crazy — frayed nerves, short tempers, sad moods. It’s true that during the winter we spend a whole lot more time in closed spaces, allowing us to spread both the flu and bad attitudes to the ones we love.

“Remember that bacteria is the only culture some people have,” observes Hamlet Smith, therapist and founder of Life Strategies Counseling Services Inc.

“Decreased sunlight, reduced movement and the same ol’ people can crash our immune systems physically and mentally.”

Smith offers here a few practical tips for beating the winter blues using beneficial four-letter words ... alternatives to ones we might be tempted to let out when we’re tired of breathing one another’s air. Savor these, and practice one a day before the next storm happens.

1. MOVE. “Our bodies are machines that were created for movement. Like any kind of equipment our body breaks down when it isn’t used. Clear off the exercise bike that has magazines stacked all over it and start pedaling. Anxiety’s primary enemy is movement. Anxiety paralyzes us, keeps us in the ‘what if’ mode instead of the ‘let’s do this’ mode. Simply attacking a chore or responsibility can stave off anxiety’s effects for hours.”

2. HELP. “Everyone you meet has things that they need help accomplishing. Take the focus off of yourself with a healthy dose of ‘others-centered’ thinking. You don’t have to volunteer at the homeless shelter to be a useful part of someone’s life. Offer to help by picking up a few extra things at the grocery store for your husband or a neighbor if you’re venturing out.”

3. GIVE. “Everyone appreciates an unexpected gift, even if it’s just a latte for a co-worker or a batch of cookies for the office. (Can’t think of anyone? Send those cookies to 120 Harper Court at Life Strategies Counseling in care of Hamlet Smith.) Seriously, pleasure from giving to others is a quick pick-me-up for these snowy days. Surprise someone.”

4. PLAY. “Everyone has a deck of cards. Dust them off and fire up an old game of crazy eights or war. The interaction with other people is what we need, and you won’t hear any arguments from your kids. Playing games is a better social lubricant than the finest wine.”

5. REST. “Take the opportunity to sleep in when you can. As long as it doesn’t become habit-forming, it can be another way to treat yourself to a little pampering.”

6. READ. “There are these wonderful things grandma talks about  called books. Curl up with a good book and a blanket on the couch. If you feel like one-upping it, get your kids together for a read-aloud session. Books, like most things, are enjoyed in groups. You will place a good feeling deep in your family’s collective consciousness by having a read-aloud session of a new book.”

7. MUGS. “Often, things are special because you make them special. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of coming in from playing in the snow to a piping hot cup of cocoa. Put it in a special mug and add too many marshmallows for maximum effect.”

8. HUGS. “The power of touch is well-documented. Give the special people in your life the gift of your presence and the acceptance found in touch.”

9. PLAN. “You’ve got time on your hands to think about your future. What are your goals? Where do you want to be in five years? More importantly, WHO do you want to be in five years? Take the time you need to make any course corrections for the big picture in life.”

10. SAVE. “In the unstable economy we have, planning to put a little cash back for a rainy day isn’t just a good idea, but solid advice. Even children can see the value of saving up for a gift. Research suggests that people literally enjoy gifts more that they have placed on layaway and pick up when they’ve saved for it. It increases the anticipation factor.”

11. PRAY. “Two sides of prayer are important. Sure, take the time to ask for what you need, but make sure that you balance that with what you are thankful for. Of course, there have been bad things that have happened. You don’t need any special encouragement to remember these, but chances are taking time to reflect on what you’re thankful for may make all the difference.”

... and if none of these suit your fancy, buy a large calendar of outdoor photography and start marking off squares. Spring is only 70-or-so days away!

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