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Is Your New Year Happy Yet?

Doriane C. Miller, M.D. | 1/22/2014, 4:02 p.m.
The dreary weather may have you down, but it doesn’t have to A few weeks after the holiday season, everything ...
If you’re feeling a little more down than normal, it’s normal. It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), mild symptoms of depression. It’s temporary—when the weather warms up, we tend to cheer up—but it can still put a dent in our efforts to stay healthy.

Doriane C. Miller, M.D.

Doriane C. Miller, M.D.

The dreary weather may have you down, but it doesn’t have to

A few weeks after the holiday season, everything seems to just stop. All the eating, shopping, celebrating and spending time with family seems to come to an abrupt end. All of a sudden we’re back to our daily routines.

It’s cold, dreary and so dark outside that 6 p.m. feels like midnight. This can turn into a post-holiday lull, especially if the snow has kept you stuck in the house.

If you’re feeling a little more down than normal, trust me, it’s normal. It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), mild symptoms of depression. It’s temporary—when the weather warms up, we tend to cheer up—but it can still put a dent in our efforts to stay healthy.

Comfort food is about comfort, not food.

One of the main symptoms of SAD is craving comfort foods, especially carbs. We tend to want to snuggle up with something warm that makes us feel better. For me, it’s my aunt’s rice pudding custard.

But it’s not that my body wants the custard. My body is trying to replace the energy needed to combat another symptom—fatigue. Basically, it’s looking for a pick-me-up, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Also, comfort foods tend to signal our bodies to produce feel-good hormones, like serotonin. Low levels of serotonin can lead to symptoms of depression. One thing that causes serotonin levels to drop is a lack of sunlight. If it can’t get more sunlight, the body looks for something else to boost serotonin—carbs.

But indulging our comfort food cravings can lead to weight gain. And if you’re already living with diabetes or high blood pressure, it can cause more health problems.

The solution: Find healthier comfort foods. Try making fresh black or green tea, sweetened with vanilla or honey. If you like soup, skip the cream-based soups, which tend to be more fattening. Make a broth-based soup instead, like chicken noodle or minestrone.

Get moving. If not on a plane, then on a treadmill.

Most of us would love to pack up, go someplace sunny and stay on the beach until the snow melts. If that’s not possible, try exercise.

Obviously exercise is key to preventing just about every other chronic disease, but it also helps serotonin levels and reduces symptoms of depression. This is especially true for aerobic exercise. Until the weather gets better, indoor activities are a good place to start. If you live in an apartment with stairs, make some time to go up and down the stairs for exercise.

Websites like DailyBurn.com even allow you to customize your workout and do routines right in front of your laptop.

You can also take advantage of winter activities at your local Chicago Park District like zumba classes or steppers’ lessons. If you have an obesity-related health condition, your doctor can prescribe fitness as treatment. With the medical doctor’s prescription and a valid photo ID, you might qualify for a free 3-month membership at your nearest Chicago Park District.