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UW-Health Psychologist: Beat Winter By Embracing It

PHOTO: UW-Health Psychologist Dr. Shilagh Mirgain says one of the best ways to beat winter is to embrace it. (Photo provided by UW-Health)
PHOTO: UW-Health Psychologist Dr. Shilagh Mirgain says one of the best ways to beat winter is to embrace it. (Photo provided by UW-Health)
February 24, 2014

MADISON, Wis. - Winter weather can make us want to hibernate, according to University of Wisconsin Health psychologist Dr. Shilagh Mirgain, but her advice on how to beat winter is either to escape it or embrace it.

"I always say if we can't get out of winter, better to really get into it: so what we say about the winter really can impact our mood," she declared. "Focus on what we want to do or achieve; some plans, some goals we're working toward, can really help make this period of time much more vibrant, versus being like a broken record complaining about the weather."

Mirgain said it's important to make exercise a priority during the winter, and to stay in touch with friends with phone calls, emails and through social networks. She pointed out that exercise is one of the most protective factors against depression, and combating isolation is also another important strategy, as is planning out what you'd like to accomplish when the weather warms up. When the sun is out, get out into the sun, she urged.

"For those of us here in a northern state like Wisconsin, we can't get enough vitamin D from the sun during the colder months because the sun's rays just aren't strong enough to give us the UV exposure that we need, so supplementation is often necessary to keep our bodies healthy."

Mirgain said you should speak with your physician about getting a vitamin D supplement and taking the proper dose. She noted that fish and mushrooms are also good sources of vitamin D.

About 5 percent of the population will experience what's called Seasonal Affective Disorder during the winter, but Mirgain said 10 to 20 percent of us will have a milder form of the condition, known as the "winter blues," because of the shortened days, cold weather and lack of sunlight.

So how do you know when you should see your doctor if you've tried to improve your mood and can't?

"You're still having difficulty with energy level, you find that you're no longer enjoying things as much as possible, or you're just feeling down in the dumps and it's not remitting, it's not changing. Definitely within a week or two, please talk to your physician because there's a lot of help medically that's available for boosting your mood," she urged.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI