Friday, April 12, 2013

Winter Blues

As I poured my second cup of coffee the other morning, I smiled to myself at the light in the window. Sunrise. It was 6:50am. The Alaska Winter Blues & Cabin Fever would be retreating again soon. Earlier in the week, we had passed the 14 hour (14 hours of daylight) mark and we are gaining about 6 minutes of light fast now.

As we are finishing up our second Alaskan winter up here, I sometimes stop and reflect on how well (most of the time) the Heck crew has done being transplanted here from Florida.  The summers have been amazing (I'll save this topic for another time), but I often think about how we have dealt with such a huge change with these cold, dark Alaskan Winters.  At the darkest point in the Winter, Anchorage receives approximately 5 hours of sunlight in a day.  Can you say dark?

The cycle of sunlight and darkness has always set the rhythm of human life. Cold temperatures, snow, and limited daylight can make it challenging to maintain emotional balance.  Lack of natural light affects different people in different ways. The dark has strong natural energetic influence in all climates, especially the cold.  As the natural light of Winter decreases, our bodies begin to ‘hibernate,’ our glandular system responds by slowing down. Fatigue, or lack of energy, can set in.

Dark and overcast days can intensify depression or make our bodies sluggish.  Thoughts and attitudes can become negative. Our bodies change as the summer tan fades and we begin to look pale. Some of us gain weight in the winter, and our mood can go down hill as we stay indoors more often.  Our health, mood, and behavior are affected when the quality and quantity of sunlight is lessened.  We can easily overcome the influence of the dark. Two basic remedies that balance out the dark are light and exercise.

Over the last two winters, there are several things that we do to help effectively deal with the wintertime blues.
  • Don’t overdose on the news. (Let’s face it, the news is depressing.)
  • Limit your alcohol intake.
  • Maintain contact with friends and family.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Happy thoughts!
Happy thoughts produce brain chemicals that make you happy, for emotions are side effects of thoughts. Happy thoughts will help you get through the months of Winter Blues & Cabin Fever.  The other way to think about it is that winter is a part of living here, so suck it up and get used to it!  But the little bit of winter "survival" wisdom that I can possibly pass on to anyone that might one day live up here in this beautiful state includes these daily activities:
  1. Open up the curtains & blinds and turn on the lamps & overhead lights first thing in the morning.  Regardless if the sun is up or not or you think it's too early, get the day started and get yourself (and the kids) on a daily routine.
  2. Dress in layers and don't forget to wear your boots.
  3. If you have small children like we do, don't be intimidated by the snow or temperatures to go outside and play.  As long as the temperatures were "reasonable" (mine personal rule of thumb was 15*F), get the kids bundled up, grab some little sleds, snow toys & buckets and let the kids play.  Kids will LOVE the winter fun, even if it's just pulling them around the neighborhood in a sleigh.
  4. Try some Alaskan Winter activities like cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, downhill skiing, ice skating, snowmachining and sledding.
  5. Visit one of the dozens and dozens of indoor playgrounds.  It's a small price to pay for a warm, dry place for the kids to kick off their shoes and play!
Don't get me wrong - I've had a few down days where I find myself in a funk.  I've put up a good front. When friends in the Lower 48 ask how I can stand the cold, I say things like “you can always put another layer on” or “the temperature helps keep the idiot population down.” Inside though, I’m freezing just thinking about our cold temperatures.

Inevitably though, we get one of those January/February/March days that are so clear and bright that the sun melted snow drips from rooftops and I swear I can feel the sun’s heat on my face.  Those are the days that remind me winter will eventually fade away and the warmer months of summer are not too, too, too far away.

Before we know it, it’s March (or even April 12th) and everything seems somehow ... better.  I look back over the winter and I'm reminded that October through February make me relish March through September. 

And I’m convinced the cold keeps the idiot population down.

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