Thursday, January 27, 2011

Surviving Snow-Fatigue, or Snow Derangement Syndrome

With the huge amounts of snow, cold and grey skies we have had this Winter, many of us are feeling desperate for warmth and sunshine. Unless you have the good fortune to be able to flee to a tropical hideaway, it's a good idea to shake up your routine. 
  • Humor is healing. Seek out a funny friend or a favorite comedy.
  • If you have children, remember that you are not responsible for entertaining them. Challenge them to come up with new games and to entertain themselves. A great book full of old school, inexpensive activities is "The Orange Mama Laid", by Kirsten Denny. (Available on Amazon)
  • Get outside on sunny days. Even better, leave your sunscreen off for 15 minutes to maximize absorption of Vitamin D.
  • If you exercise, try a new sport or class to create some novelty for your body and brain.
  • Plan your real or imagined spring garden. Consider starting seedlings indoors in March. Visualizing a bountiful garden and planning for fresh food will lift your spirits.
  • Do a good deed. Even small acts like offering a smile to a cranky neighbor or letting someone into traffic have been scientifically proven to reduce stress and create a feeling of well-being.
  • Check your caffeine intake. We often unconsciously increase our caffeine consumption during the Winter to keep the cold at bay. If this is the case for you, gradually bring it back down to no more than two to three cups a day. More than that can cause irritability and interfere with sleep.
  • More hours indoors can lead to more hot Toddys and wine by the fire. If you are prone to the blues, limit your alcohol intake as much as possible- it's a depressant, and it interferes with sleep. 
  • Low folic acid levels are associated with depression. A good source of folic acid is found in leafy green veggies. If they aren't your top food choice, chop them and add them to soups and stews for the last five to ten minutes of cooking. This works well with swiss chard and spinach.
  • Even my snow-loving Golden Retriever, Ginger, is struggling this Winter!
  • You've heard it before, but I would be remiss if I did not mention Omega 3 fatty acids, which play a crucial role in overall health. However, Omega 3's are found in greater concentrations in the brain than in other parts of the body, and have been shown to alleviate depression. Omega-3s can be found in fatty fish like wild salmon, sardines, Atlantic mackerel, and in lower quantities in ground flaxseeds, walnuts and omega-3 fortified eggs. Ground flaxseeds can be substituted for small portions of flour or pancake mix without sacrificing taste. Kirkland Signature Natural Fish Oil Concentrate with Omega-3 Fatty Acids - 400 Softgels
Making all these changes would be daunting. Try choosing a few that appeal to you, and monitor your mood, health and overall level of functioning for the next few weeks. Hopefully you will see some positive results. If your low mood persists, you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or depression, and should consider getting a professional opinion from a licensed therapist. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Medicine, Therapy, or Both?

Twice yesterday clients asked good questions about medication, therapy, and how they relate to each other.

A new client, "Mr. X"*,  was prescribed an anti-depressant by his doctor for ongoing depression due to his wife's death several years ago.  He asked my opinion about anti-depressants. He was reluctant to take an anti-depressant, feeling that he should be able to "get over it" on his own.  Like many wise individuals, my client is concerned about his health, and does not want to ingest anything that could harm him. Although like all medications, anti-depressants can cause side-effects, for most people the benefits far outweigh the side effects. Furthermore, we live in an era when there are a number of effective medications for depression, and if the first medication you try leaves you with undesirable side effects, there is a good chance that the next one your doctor prescribes will not.

What I have observed is that for some clients, anti-depressants are a temporary bridge between depression and a return to being "yourself".  Many people who are depressed are bothered by cloudy thinking and/or circular, repetitive thoughts. In such a state, clients are not always able to use therapy to it's full potential. However, anti-depressants help many people return to their normal, logical thought process. When clients can think clearly, they are able to use techniques that they learn in therapy and apply them to their outside life. Once a client feels that they are functioning and feeling better, it is often possible to gradually discontinue anti-depressants. Contrary to what some believe, anti-depressants are not addictive, but discontinuation absolutely needs to be monitored by a qualified physician.
"Bridge the Gap" between medicine and therapy

At this point you may be wondering if I am in the back pocket of a pharmaceutical firm. Absolutely not. I cannot prescribe medication. In fact, I always work with a client on natural stress reducing and mood boosting techniques before making a referral for a medication evaluation.  However, in some situations, the ongoing stress of a death, job loss, or family problems can wear people down to the point where their brain chemistry needs stronger support- ie-medication.

Many well-done independent studies have been done to research what the best treatment is for depression. The results are consistent: many people get better from therapy, many people get better from anti-depressants, but the most effective, quickest way to feel better is through a COMBINATION of medication and therapy. 

Regardless of what "Mr. X" decides regarding medication, I look forward to working with him to help him find his unique path to healing.

Be well,

 *Details changed to protect client's anonymity.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Work-Life Balance

Happy New Year! Months ago I was interviewed for an article on Work-Life Balance. Published recently, it may help you start the New Year in a more relaxed way.

An excerpt:
How to create happy memories
• Take three. A three-pronged approach to relaxation can vastly improve your quality of life. Daily, weekly, and seasonal "vacations" should be incorporated into your schedule. Give yourself permission not to do laundry, pay bills, work, chauffeur children, or do any activity that feels like a chore.
• Pared-back Parenting. That's already been discussed, though some parents might feel guilty if their focus isn't "all children, all the time." But that's the wrong attitude. psychotherapist Laura Van Riper says. Still not sure about the value of paring back? Studies have shown that children who were over-scheduled when growing up had poorer decision-making and coping skills when first faced with free time in college or when living independently.
• Simplify. Henry David Thoreau advocated the simple life, and modern therapists agree. "One of the best ways to simplify is to make a list of the five aspects of life you most value, written in descending order. Then you can gradually go about adding enjoyable activities that support your values, and paring back on commitments that do not support them," says Van Riper. "If it's not your passion, too, meet your commitment and then gracefully make your exit. This may free up one night a week or a month to spend with your partner, a friend, or a good book."
• Unplug. If you are one of the many who has trouble disconnecting from technology, force yourself to disconnect for a set time frame every night. You will be better rested, and probably feel more creative and effective in the morning.
• Face the music. One of the least discussed but most important ways to free up precious energy is to take care of lingering interpersonal conflicts as soon as possible. Many people, especially women, ruminate over relationship problems, and get paralyzed trying to sort them out. Try addressing disagreements and uncomfortable situations as soon as possible. It takes some practice to find the right balance of directness, diplomacy and compromise, but will be well worth it. You'll be surprised by how well this style of problem solving can free up energy.
-- Adapted from a list by Laura Van Riper, MSW