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Friday, June 23, 2006

Plotting to beat the winter blues

The Bargain Queen's got a slight case of the winter blues. Here in Sydney, it's been cold and grey for weeks, so she's spent a lot of time indoors next to the heater - but she's usually a social butterfly, so too much solitude doesn't make her feel great.

The good news is, the winter blues is completely treatable because it's caused by an imbalance of two chemicals in the brain (melatonin and serotonin) that can be manipulated without resorting to medication. These chemicals effect your sleep, appetite, attention span, memory, learning and mood. When they're balanced just-so you feel fabulous but if they're not you don't feel great.

Here's some of the things that help even them out again:
  • Getting outdoors each morning. The higher amount of light outdoors compared to inside helps your brain recognise that it's time to be awake, so your serotonin levels go up and your melatonin levels go down, making you more alive and alert. Pity it's so cold in the morning!

  • Keep the house brightly lit. For the same reason, having some bright lights in the house can also help. It sort of tricks your brain into thinking it's summer, so you feel happy and relaxed instead of cold and cranky.

  • Doing some exercise. This causes your body to produce endorphins, another type of brain chemical that make you feel good. It also speeds up the metabolism a little, which helps because it normally slows down in winter so you feel sluggish and gain weight. And as an added bonus, getting off the couch would make The Bargain Queen feel like she was doing something positive about feeling fat and unfit, instead of just complaining about it.

  • Eating lots of complex carbs. Eating sugar also increases serotonin levels, which is part of why chocolate is so amazingly wonderful this time of year. The problem with sugar is that it's in and out of the bloodstream so quickly you need to munch all day to feel great. By contrast, complex carbs add a little sugar to the bloodstream regularly for a few hours while you digest them. Which means that when The Bargain Queen tucks into a big yummy baked potato this time of year, she's really just taking her medicine ;)

  • Having some fun. When you're feeling a bit blue staying at home on the couch often doesn't help much, but doing something you really enjoy outside the house can improve your mood a lot. Which means The Bargain Queen really ought to call her friends and arrange to catch up. Or take a long walk with Mr Bargain Queen. Or go see a fun movie. Or take a trip to the library to find some great books to read. Or do one of the million other things she considers enjoyable.
So what's the bad news? The Bargain Queen just can't be bothered doing most of this today. It's cold, the sky's mostly grey, she's got nothing to wear... She dug out a lamp to put on her desk for some extra light while she's writing at least, but that's about as motivated as she's feeling. She might manage a wander to the hardware store this afternoon to have a chat with the nice old guys about putting up some shelves, and even that will feel like an achievement!

But hey, winter solstice is just past, so things should sort themself out pretty soon. And in the meantime, there's always chocolate :)

PS: There's a more extreme form of the winter blues called Seasonal Affective Disorder, where you get clinically depressed each year instead of just blue. If you've got it, the stuff above won't do you any harm, but it's probably best to talk to someone who knows more about this stuff than The Bargain Queen. Since she's not a doctor and doesn't even play one on TV, she's not qualified to give you proper medical advice so listen to her at your own peril. ;)
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  • At 2:37 pm, Blogger Rebecca said…

    I'm not a doctor either, but it seems good advice to me. Hey, maybe you could install one of those full-spectrum light bulbs in the spot where you like to sit to blog. :)

  • At 6:54 pm, Blogger La Rêveuse said…

    I would add to make sure you look at the sun (not for a long time or anything, but expose your eyes to it.) A friend told us that the vitamin D isn't absorbed unless the iris of your eye looks at the sun, and my hubby said it made a big difference for him this winter in Paris--he suffers from SAD. (Not me, I'm of Norwegian descent. Cold and dark is just fine.)

  • At 2:22 pm, Blogger The Bargain Queen said…

    Rebecca: That's a great idea, thanks! I've moved my lamp to my blogging desk, now I've just got to remember to switch it on each day :)

    Mrs. B: Thank you, will have to remember to look at the sun too. So jealous of your Norwegian genes!


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