Sunday, January 23, 2011

Battling the Winter 'Blahs'? Take a Sensory Vacation!

This is the time of year when I really start to feel the winter "blahs".  Days without sunshine, weeks without temperatures above freezing, and copious amounts of the "nasty white stuff" have me just wanting to hibernate!  Unfortunately, that is not conducive to paying my bills.  So, in order to cope with what many would probably label as mild Seasonal Affective Disorder, I have learned to take "sensory vacations".

What is a sensory vacation?  I have learned to, essentially, trick my senses by barraging them with stimuli I associate with summer and warm, tropical climates.  Yes, I know I am still surrounded by the Michigan snow, but it does help to lessen my down times.  Here are a few of my favorites.  [Please note: If you are experiencing major depression, including but not limited to thoughts of suicide and/or inability to function in daily tasks, please consult with a psychologist, counselor or other health professional immediately.] 

Auditory (Hearing)
As a music therapist, this is an important sense for me.  During the cold, winter months, I like to pull out calypso, reggae and Hawaiian music.  For world music selections, I use a lot of CDs from the "Putumayo Presents" series; Putumayo Presents: The Caribbean has lots of "warm sounding" songs.  As far as Hawaiian music, I love anything and everything by the late Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole.  Everytime I hear IZ's voice, I am immediately transported back to a white sandy beach of Hawaii.

Summer 2010 in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Particularly in cloudy Michigan, looking out the window can quickly get you down.  I opt to surround myself with pictures from warmer days and places.  I use images from summer and my tropical vacations as my computer desktop, screensaver and Facebook profile picture.  I also have a "Tropical Paradise" wall calendar, which never fails to elicit some warming daydreams.

Olfactory (Smell)
I use candles and lotions to transport my nose.  My favorite sensory vacation candle is Yankee Candle's 'Sun & Sand', which smells like sunscreen and all things summer.  If Sun & Sand does not appeal to you, perhaps Pineapple Cilantro or Ocean Blossom will be more to your taste.  For lotions, I go for tropical scents, as well; my current favorite is Bath & Body Works 'Mango Mandarin'.  I am also looking forward to trying products from Bath & Body Works' new "Island Escape" line, which includes Hawaii Coconut, Fiji Passionfruit, and Bali Mango.

Gustatory (Taste)
I have found that when I use my Mango Mandarin lotion, I crave fruit.  Fresh fruit can be pretty expensive this time of year, but frozen fruit is usually more budget-friendly and works great for making smoothies.  I also rely on fruit juices, particularly anything containing pineapple juice, to give my taste buds a tropical treat.

Somatosensory (Touch, Proprioception)
One of the things I miss the most during the winter is the feel of warm sunshine on my body.  Light therapy, a common treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, is one option for satisfying this deficiency.  Light therapy lamps emit bright light, which mimics natural outdoor light and is thought to effect serotonin production.  Additional information about light therapy can be found here.  Some people opt to use tanning beds, rather than light therapy lamps, but please be aware that tanning beds can expose the body to high levels of UV rays, which can contribute to skin cancer.

A few other suggestions for beating the winter "blahs"...
- Get plenty of exercise.  Despite my busy schedule, I try to get to the gym 4-5 times per week.
- Get enough sleep.  It's important to know how much sleep your body needs to feel well-rested.
- Get fresh air.  Sometimes I will leave my lunch in my car, simply so I have to go outside during the day.  Even a few minutes of fresh, albeit cold, air can go a long way.
- Eat healthy.  Eating heavy, fatty meals will only contribute to the desire to hibernate.
- Supplement your diet with vitamins.  Vitamin D is especially important during dark winter months and can make a big difference with energy levels.

What would you add to these suggestions? How do you keep your spirits up during winter?

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