Zoom Autism Magazine Issue 6 - Page 62

Q&A How Do You Deal with the Winter Blues? W inter blues is a type of depression that occurs around the same time every year. While there is no single cause, there are some factors that can lead up to this form of depression. Shorter, darker, colder days; holiday crowds, noise and bright lights; changes in schedules and lots of unstructured time; donning winter clothing such as jackets, scarves and gloves, etc. – all of these things can be huge physical, emotional and sensory challenges that can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, restless, anxious, irritable, helpless, unenergetic and sad, otherwise known as the Winter Blues. We decided to ask some of our autistic experts who ha ve experienced the Winter Blues how they deal with it. Here is what a few had to say. 62 ZOOM Autism through Many Lenses “I’ve used therapy lights to help keep my sleepwake cycles regulated and found a pleasant side effect of light therapy was that it completely wiped out my winter blues. If you want to try, get a bright light and set it facing you but slightly to the side -- even better if you can get two lights and put one on each side. Lights on the side will have less direct glare in your eyes and are more effective at reaching the retinal cells that communicate directly with your SCN, a small part of your brain’s hypothalamus. Turn them on as soon after waking as possible and spend at least 30 minutes with your lights (while eating breakfast is usually just about right). Caution: if you are prone to mania, ask your doctor before trying light therapy.” ~Sparrow Rose Jones “Cold weather and winter brings so many sensory challenges to me that I dread the coming of the season. I deal with it by making sure that I have comfortable, warm clothes, especially a coat that makes me happy and mittens that don’t bother me. Hats are problematic because of dry weather and static hair. I’ve found that a warm headband is really helpful and works with ponytails to keep that winter hair out of my way. I also try to make sure my skin doesn’t get overly dry as that is a sensory trigger for me, and when I am sensorily dysregulated, I am far more likely to feel depressed. As for the emotional part, I always feel better when I exercise. In my case, I run, which is harder in the cold weather, especially if I’m already feeling down from winter blues. I try really hard to keep active and to do things with my family instead of just burrowing into my bed, which feels good, but ultimately just makes me more depressed.” ~ Jean Winegardner “I don’t like winter jackets because I feel like I’m stuck. I’d rather be cold than stuck, so I haven’t worn one in a long time, which makes my mom worry all winter! It’s a good compromise to wear a fleece, or if it’s not quite as cold, a fleece vest. My arms need to be free to move however they’d like!” ~Lydia Wayman “ POPCORN! Seriously I’m not kidding! When I am feeling rushed or overwhelmed during the holiday madness or feeling cold and lost on a snow day off from school, nothing calms me more then popping some popcorn and watching a familiar favorite movie. The smell of the popcorn and the warmth of the bowl in my hands as I sit in MY spot on the couch is comforting. That’s how I deal with the Winter Blues.” ~ Jacob Fuentes (14yrs old) “This is a reliable problem, so I’ve learned that planning out a few months’ worth of distractions can be helpful. It’s not enough to just seek out books, movies, TV, music. I can get too low energy to initiate stuff like this. So, before winter begins, I write out a detailed schedule of distractions and do everything I can to stick to it. I find ways to keep my mind occupied and, more importantly, give myself a day-to-day schedule that tells me exactly what to focus on. This can often be helpful.” ~M. Kelter “In the winter I like to decorate my house. Christmas lights in rainbow colors give a nice cheerful feeling in the house. Just be sure to read the packaging to avoid flashing lights!” ~ Karin Gomez “The darkness and cold are what get to me the most, so I schedule myself to go out for a short walk at least once a day, and when the weather is nice, I make a point to smile with my face in the sunshine and eyes closed for a few minutes. A warm bath before going outside into the cold helps keep muscle tension at bay longer. I also remind myself to keep extra warm (I tend to forget) with a sweater, a scarf and wool booties when indoors. And I make a point to enjoy coziness. I fill a bottle with hot tap water, bring it to bed and apply it to my back, neck and legs to relax tense muscles. Warms up the bed, too!” ~Marie Lauzon ZOOM Autism through Many Lenses 63