January is typically a difficult month. The holidays are over and spring seems so far away. Then there is the weather. It still gets dark early; it’s been extremely, bone-chillingly cold and snowy; and, oh, the ice. The gray days can give way to the blues, aka “the winter blahs.”
For seniors, the blahs can be especially hard, as it is often more difficult to leave the house, again because of the weather and family who visited for the holidays may be gone so more time is spent alone.
Keep in mind that the winter “blah and down-in-the-dumps” feeling is not to be confused with seasonal affective disorder or depression. If you experience winter blahs well into spring, contact your health care provider as depression is not a natural sign of aging, no matter how old you are, and it is treatable.
But if you are just feeling blah-like, there are things that may help. Here are some tips for surviving the winter blahs:
• Bring some fresh flowers into your home. They can typically be found at the grocery store and are a great way to brighten up even the darkest mood.
• Keep your mind alert by reading, doing crossword puzzles, playing cards with a friend, doing crafts and hobbies, or doing any other activity that engages your brain. If you have a box of unidentified family photos, think about organizing it. Later generations will thank you.
• Exercise. A snowy yard is no excuse to be sedentary. If you can’t get out of the house, exercise indoors. There are a variety of DVDs available for every age group and activity level. There are even walking tapes which are fun, inexpensive at big-box stores, and easy to do. Depending on the DVD, you may “walk in place” several miles. Check with your doctor for more options.
• You may gravitate toward comfort food but that doesn’t mean that your choices need to be unhealthful. Macaroni with low-fat cheese can be just as delicious as the higher-fat variety. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich can take you back to your youth, but think about upping its health factor with low-sugar jam and whole-grain bread. And you’ll feel better, in the long run, eating a nutritious stew rather than ice cream. OK, have a little ice cream, but how about some canned fruit as a topping?
• Increase social time with family and friends. If you have trouble getting out, invite them to your home. If you have a computer, see about using Skype to stay in touch with family and friends.
• Be creative. If you love decorating for the holidays, do it for other special occasions as well. Valentine’s Day is coming up and it is hard to be depressed when surrounded by lacy red hearts. And candy.
• Make plans for fun things to do in the future, like a special dinner or a trip. It gives you something to think about and to look forward to.
• Take a class or just get out of the house. Check the calendar section of the paper for a listing of things to do. You might be amazed at all that is going on right outside your door.
• If possible, volunteer for an organization you admire — such as Eastern Area Agency on Aging. There is nothing like helping someone else to make you feel better and make the winter days pass quickly.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of community education at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, or toll-free (800) 432-7812, or log on www.eaaa.org.