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Welcome back to the darkest timeline. How to stay sane this winter

Jessica Roy, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

"Whether it's yoga, whether it's walking, whether it's stretching — movement in general will help to get in the body and start to open up the parts of us that may start to feel stagnant," Simon said. It's about "keeping that energy moving through the body, keeping our blood flowing."

-- Meditation.I want to take a second here to acknowledge that it can be frustrating to hear "Have you tried exercise and meditation?" in response to mental health concerns. But there's a reason these recommendations come up over and over again: They are clinically proven to be effective, and they're free. So there's really no downside to trying.

Meditation doesn't have to be anything formal, though there are plenty of guided varieties on YouTube, Spotify, Headspace and elsewhere. Simon — who teaches meditation and mindfulness classes on Open, a fee-based website — said it can be as simple as checking in with yourself and asking, "How am I feeling today? Where am I? What's coming up for me? How am I tuning out? How can I tune in a little bit more in all of those things?"

Acknowledging what you're thankful for can be particularly powerful. You can do that as you meditate, said Simon, with what's called a gratitude practice: "Instead of looking outwardly of 'what I need' or 'what is out there in the world,' [it's] 'how can I find gratitude for where I am and what I currently have and what's currently in my world.'"

-- Make social plans.It's not a coincidence that a lot of societies in colder climates invent reasons to get together this time of year, Palinkas said: "They structure their celebrations and holidays often during winter months as a way of bringing people together, which helps to address symptoms of sadness and depressed mood as well."

You don't need the excuse of a holiday to get together. Just get together. So yes, your dinner plans now qualify as self-care. Reach out to friends and loved ones and make time to be together.

"Human connection is critical," said Raftery Ryan. And it doesn't have to be in person if that's not possible or preferred for you right now, she said. "I encourage people to find their online community, peer support groups (NAMI Westside L.A. offers a number of them), family-to-family support groups, a book club, an exercise class at home."

-- Create a routine. Part of what disrupts our internal clocks is a change in routine, said Palinkas. If you were taking long walks on light summer evenings or spending weekends hiking or hitting the beach, you're probably going through a seasonal transition of your own right now.

 

Make a new routine that serves the season. It will be especially beneficial if it gets you moving in some way, Simon said, even if it's just starting your mornings with a few minutes of stretching in front of a sunny window. Cold weather calls for cozy activities, so maybe make a playlist of mood-lifting songs to play when you start making coffee in the morning, or put on a pot of tea and light a candle every evening to mark the end of your workday.

-- Light therapy — natural or artificial.SAD lamps are safe and effective, although you should check with your doctor first if you have bipolar depression or an eye condition. You'll get best results by using them for about 30 minutes within the first hour of waking up. If you don't want to buy one, take advantage of Southern California's natural sunlight by making plans to get outside during the daytime.

When you're shopping for a SAD lamp online, look closely at the product's specifications before clicking "add to cart"; they can range in size from a desk light to a vanity mirror to an old-school computer monitor.

When to seek professional help

We all feel depressed sometimes, and changes in sleeping and eating habits are not uncommon this time of year, Palinkas said. But if SAD symptoms rise to a level where you feel you can't control them or they're disrupting your life to the point where you can't function, it's time to see your primary care doctor or a mental health specialist.

The main things to consider are intensity and duration of symptoms, Raftery Ryan said, particularly a period of more than two weeks in which you experience such things as daytime fatigue and lethargy, excessive sleeping or eating, hopelessness, decreased socialization, suicidal ideation, weight gain and carbohydrate cravings. She said your doctor may recommend a combination of antidepressant medication, cognitive behavioral therapy and exercise.

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