CRANBERRY TWP — As temperatures drop on bleak winter days, a person's mood can also plummet.
“I think everybody does,” said Connie Berie of New Sewickley discussing who gets cases of the winter blues. “As you get older, it's harder to go out.”
To counter seasonal depression, stay busy, she said.
“Keep busy around the house doing things you otherwise might not have gotten done,” she said. “That always helps.”
Over 70 seniors combated the cold and dark of the changing season with warm and bright fun at the Cranberry Senior Center, 2525 Rochester Road, last week during its Winter Blues Party.
Seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression related to changes in the seasons, is estimated to affect 10 million Americans, according to Psychology Today. Another 10 percent to 20 percent may have mild SAD.
Not everyone with SAD has the same symptoms, but, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM — 5), symptoms commonly associated with the winter blues include: feelings of hopelessness and sadness; thoughts of suicide; hypersomnia or a tendency to oversleep; a change in appetite, especially a craving for sweet or starchy foods; weight gain; a heavy feeling in the arms or legs; a drop in energy level; decreased physical activity; fatigue; difficulty concentrating; irritability; and avoidance of social situations.
Symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping energy and making moody feelings, according to the Mayo Clinic.
People shouldn't brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the “winter blues” or a seasonal funk to tough out alone.
For several years, the senior center has hosted a winter blues party in January, said Terrie Walker, the center manager.
A special meal accompanied by appetizers, giveaways and music fills the day. The party gives seniors an event to look forward to because there are no trips in the winter because of the weather, she said.
“In January when you take the Christmas decorations down, it's bare,” Walker said. “You get moody, depressed.”
Cranberry Township resident Roxan Boyd moved from table to table with a card for the seniors.
“The camaraderie, the people — that's what makes it,” Boyd said about the center.
Boyd volunteered at the party and also helps with other events on the special-events committee.
In addition to volunteering, she has belonged to the center for six years, Boyd said.
“It's a great turnout,” she said. “I think it's wonderful because at Christmas time everybody's so busy and this gets people out and engaging when it's the middle of January and most people are hibernating.”
The party is Walker's way to keep the joy alive after the Christmas parties at the different centers, churches and organizations have ended, said Rose Pennavaria, director of Center Services for The Nutrition Group. Pennavaria who is based in Westmoreland County, assists the regional manager in Butler County and two other counties.
The period after the holidays when the cheer has faded can be hard for seniors when some are left alone after families leave, she said,
One of the biggest issues this time of year is isolation, she said.
However, the senior centers offer attendees hope.
“The families have gone home or weather-related incidents, people can't get out to see each other as much as they normally can. It is so important to keep socialization maximized,” she said. “This is the place they can come and really feel a sense of community and really even more so family.”
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Symptoms specific to winter-onset seasonal affective disorder, sometimes called winter depression, may include:
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Tiredness or low energy
SOURCE: Mayo Clinic
Raise Your Spirits
Here are some tips that people can use to raise their spirits during the winter months:
- Keep Active: Keep up with work, school or social obligations. Exercise has also been proven to reduce symptoms of depression and make you feel better
- Lighten Up: Winter has its share of dark, gloomy mornings, but turning on your lamps and overhead lights can help lift your mood
- Focus on the Positive: Take time each morning or night to write down a list of positives or things you are grateful for
- Talk About It: If you're feeling blue or having a hard time getting motivated, talk to a friend about it. If your sadness or lethargy is continuing over days or weeks, or making it hard for you to function, consider reaching out to a counselor or other professional who can help
- Treat Yourself: Plan a movie night for yourself or a group of friends. Indulge in a hobby or start a project.