February 10, 2011

Winter of your discontent?

The only time it feels good to be cooped up in a little cabin in the winter is 
when it involves ice fishing and a cooler full of provisions.
Union Leader Correspondent
Kristin Smith braves the luge-course that is
her sidewalk with dog Queenie three times
a day. They're both ready for spring thaw.
DERRY -- Today’s arctic blast should freeze your mercury somewhere between 15 and 20 degrees. In the sun.
And speaking of sun, try not to hate your friends and neighbors who just left for someplace else, someplace warmer, like Riviera Maya, Mexico, for instance, on one of those all-inclusive winter getaway vacations, where today the high should be a balmy 81 degrees.
You’ve just got cabin fever.
Jodi Thibault, a travel consultant for AAA Merrimack Valley, sees it every February. Native New Hampshirites who, for lack of sunlight and vitamin D, zip up their Polartec vests, thumb their noses at the stressed out economy and head to the nearest travel agent, seeking an escape
“Oh yes, they’re in here every day, and they say, ‘I just want to go somewhere warm.’ We’ve got a lot of great deals right now, like the Apple Tour to Riviera Maya, for example. But the problem has been, with all thissnow,thatevenifyou’ve booked a flight, you can’t get out,” said Thibault.”
If you’re one of those who’ve been left behind, take heart. All this cold weather and snow can actually take a toll on how you think and feel. The good news is, there are things you can do to rise above it all without boarding an airplane and flying south for the rest of the winter.
The term “cabin fever” was coined as a human condition in the early 1900s, to describe someone in need of getting “out and about.” Clinically, it can be more of a euphemism for something darker — the winter
 blues, which manifests in a number of ways, including increased urges to sleep, bouts of depression and vague, persistent sadness.
Think about it: Inch for inch, there has been
 enough snow this winter to bury a classroom of fourth graders up to their earmuffs in the white stuff. Schools have called so many snow days now that districts will be hard pressed to get in the required 180 days before the end of June. 

The mid-week commute lately has been a consistent crawl of bumper cars in a horizontal ice rink, as the mounting number of fender benders has kept local auto body shops bustling. Snow mountains are everywhere, and DOT dump trucks line the interstate daily, moving miles of snow in anticipation of the next storm. 
If you don’t feel like doing a happy dance, it’s not you: More likely, it’s your lack of Vitamin D. 
“We’re definitely screening and treating more patients for deficiencies,” said Sue Olson, a registered dietician with Derry Medical Center/Londonderry Family Practice. 
“The body can’t create vitamin D on it’s own. We make it through exposure to sunlight. But for a number of people who live in northern regions, the sun is only strong enough between May and September to trigger the natural vitamin D conversion,” said Olson. 
And according to Olson, a lack of vitamin D can lead to symptoms including fatigue, weakness, low immunity, depression, mood swing and disrupted sleep patterns. 
“There is no sufficient, single dietary source of vitamin D. The best way to be sure you’re getting enough is to first get your levels tested by your doctor,” Olson said. 
After that, limited unprotected exposure to the sun for 15 minutes daily between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. will help. Eating well, and taking a vitamin D supplement based on the result of your blood work, at least until summer, should help boost energy and mood levels, Olson said. 
Psychiatrist Mary Brunette, an associate professor at Dartmouth Medical School, said in her experience, what some people are feeling this time of year goes beyond winter blues. 
Seasonal Affective Disorder, for many, begins gradually in the fall, as the days grow shorter. 
“It’s a type of depression that’s like a hibernating bear. You eat more, sleep more, everything slows down, and you crave carbs,” said Brunette. 
There’s a difference between a seasonal depression and something more clinical, like bi-polar disorder, which may result in winter depression, but will be followed by a mania in the late spring or summer, Brunette said. 
“I think for the majority of people feeling cooped up and overwhelmed with winter, the main thing they can do is choose to do something about it,” Brunette said. 
“Instead of looking at the snow storm as an annoyance, think of it as an opportunity to spend some time outdoors playing in the snow with your kids. Don’t let the weather stop you,” said Brunette. “Yes, it’s harder to go for a walk. But pull on your boots and gear up, and you will absolutely feel better after going for a brisk walk, no matter what the weather.” 
What is simply a matter of commonsense,fromBrunette’s perspective, is an integral part of everyday life for responsible pet owners, including Kristin Smith, who takes her Finnish Spitz Queenie out three times a day for some exercise and fresh air. 
“Queenie’s blind — she was a rescue dog, but she doesn’t care if she can’t see; she just wants to be outside. It’s one of the joys of pet ownership,” said Smith, treading carefully along the ice-caked sidewalk on East Broadway in Derry yesterday. 
“The snow was fun for a while, but walking a dog in it every day, is getting old,” Smith said. “I’m so ready for spring.” 

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