Taking a proactive approach against winter

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- While "Only the Best Come North," there's no denying they don't come to enjoy the winters. Yet somehow, we have all found our way to Minot, North Dakota.  While our spouses are out doing what they do best, we are often left here at home to carry on with daily life supporting our war fighters.  This is a responsibility many of us take on with pride, but winter does have its way of making it all the more challenging.

The bitter cold, howling wind and shortened days can wreak havoc on our mental and physical well-being.  Commonly shrugged off as the "winter blues" many of us have developed our own unique ways of getting through the winters.  However, for some, especially those new to the area, a much more severe health problem can emerge during this time of year known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

According to Mayo Clinic, SAD is a form of depression that follows seasonal changes, usually beginning in the fall and running through the winter, but can less commonly occur during the summer months as well.  Symptoms of SAD can include irritability, tiredness or low energy, problems getting along with other people, hypersensitivity to rejection, a heavy feeling in the arms or legs, oversleeping, appetite changes and weight gain. Additionally, SAD can include symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder such as depression that lasts throughout the day, hopelessness, decreased interest in activities, problems sleeping, feeling sluggish or agitated, difficulty concentrating and frequent thoughts of death or suicide.

It is important to remember that SAD is a medical condition which can become life threatening so be sure to listen to your body and seek professional help if you begin noticing any of the symptoms listed above.  Minot Air Force Base has no shortage of resources available to those in need.

With this being said, you are not necessarily bound to the will of winter.  There are things you can do to take charge and keep your body and mind functioning at peak performance.

First, staying active can work wonders.  Just because it is winter doesn't mean you can't continue your daily routines.  Waking and going to sleep around same time each day keeps your body on schedule and can help regulate your circadian rhythm, or your internal clock, which can impact your energy levels.

Getting out of the house regularly also helps keep your body on schedule and can improve mental well-being.  Even a short walk outside, while you may be dreading it at the time, can rejuvenate you mind, body and soul.  A rest day here and there is also important in regulating our schedules as it allows our body to recuperate and relax.

It is especially important to maintain a well-balanced diet during these months as well.  Nutrition plays a vital role in immunity as well as mental and physical health.

According to "Grapes Blueberries Shown to Enhance Immune Function", red grapes and blueberries work with Vitamin D to boost Cathelicidin Antimicrobial Peptide (CAMP) genes which play a major role in the body's ability to fight off bacterial infections.  Keeping it simple is key.

Use MyPlate.gov as a reference to guide portion sizes and food ratios to ensure you are getting the best out of your diet.  Multivitamins may be a consideration to boost your vitamin intake but be sure to consult your doctor before starting nutritional supplements to make sure the supplement is right for you and avoid harmful interactions with other medications.

Finally, light can help in your fight against winter.  Prolonged periods of darkness are believed to be one of the culprits in SAD.  Light helps regulate our "internal clock" which can affect our energy levels greatly.  Keeping your house well-lit or setting out a few extra lamps in the winter aids in keeping your body on its normal wake-sleep cycle.

Additionally, our bodies need the sun for Vitamin D production and as explained above, Vitamin D can help boost your immune system.  Less exposure to the sun equals less Vitamin D for your body so get out of the house as much as you can.

SAD can have serious impact on how we live, function, interact with others and handle our time here in Minot.  Being aware of our bodies in relation to our environment can provide us with a better quality of life.
Knowing what to look for is crucial. As with most medical conditions, early detection yields better outcomes.  Watch out not only for yourself but those around you.  Like our spouses and their counterparts, we are all in this together, so help each other make the best of the next few months.