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4 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

The groundhog says spring is near. Til then, these 'light' tips can brighten your days.

When the sun wakes up late and slips away before the workday ends, when many a day is dark and gray, when it’s Groundhog Day and even an early spring seems far away, many large, hairy mammals — Punxsutawney Phil, included — choose to hibernate. But not us!

We slog through, knowing that the passage of time will bring brighter days ahead. But we can do more than wait it out. Here are four easy ways to beat the winter blues and create a little sunshine of your own:

1. Bring light to others’ lives

“I’m 87 years old and I can still finish The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle,” a friend wrote in a holiday note to me. She added, “And I love hearing from you!”

My aunt, who is 86 and lives in rural Illinois, also likes hearing from me. The joy is evident in her voice when I call to report any new funny stories about my grandson or even when I call just to say hello.

Consider making time right now to pick up the phone and bring some sunshine into the lives of your older relatives and friends.

I care about both these women, and about other distant friends as well. Talking with them brightens my day and theirs, too.

No matter how behind in life you are, consider making time right now to pick up the phone and bring some sunshine into the lives of your older relatives and friends.

After the call(s), keep that smile on your face. Research shows that when you smile, your mood elevates and you feel less stressed.

In an article for Forbes, Roger Dooley writes that if you smile in public, those around you will be lifted as well. “UCLA scientist Marco Iacoboni notes that our brains are wired for sociability,” Dooley reports. “In particular, if one person observes another person smile, mirror neurons in that person’s brain will light up as if he were smiling himself.” (Or herself, I’m certain.)

2. Open a box of light

In mid-December, my friend Carol Porter posted this on Facebook: “I’m enjoying an early Christmas present to myself — my new light box! I sit next to it for 30 minutes daily, relaxing with coffee, calendar, notepad, tablet, organizing my day and thinking beautiful thoughts as the bright light bathes my retinas.”

When Carol complained of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — also known as the winter blues — her doctor gave her a brochure about a company that makes several varieties of high-powered therapy lights and lamps.

“A light box mimics outdoor light. Researchers believe this type of light causes a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood and eases other symptoms of SAD,” says the Mayo Clinic. A light box may be an effective treatment on its own or, the Mayo Clinic adds, “in combination with an antidepressant medication or psychotherapy.”

Think you may suffer from SAD? The Mayo Clinic lists these symptoms:
• Irritability
• Tiredness or low energy
• Problems getting along with other people
• Hypersensitivity to rejection
• Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
• Oversleeping
• Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
• Weight gain

Carol likes her lamp a lot. Sitting by it, she exhorts, “SAD, be gone!”

3. Light up the night

Me, I like the dark. (Cue “Over at the Frankenstein Place,” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which starts out with this evocative line: “In the velvet darkness of the blackest night…” What, you’re not a fan?)

Night is when I write, read, listen to music and relax. I also like vanilla-scented candles, and one recent rainy evening I gathered up five of them, put them on a placemat in the middle of my dining room table and lit them all.

I turned off the lamps and then, with a clear sight line from the living room couch, I sat with a glass of wine, enjoying my impromptu candle party and the subtle scent of vanilla.

4. Treat your “defects” lightly

“The truth is that the older I get, the more I like my defects. Old age is the best moment to be and do whatever you enjoy.” That’s Alma speaking. She’s the 81-year-old main character in Isabelle Allende’s new book, The Japanese Lover: A Novel, about a woman who carries on a secret affair well into her later years. What’s especially intriguing about Alma’s quote is the encouragement to embrace our flaws and emphasize our eccentricities.

Another important self-improvement tip comes from a recent book by Allen Klein, who insists it’s time to stop blaming other people for anything.You Can’t Ruin My Day: 52 Wake-Up Calls to Turn Any Situation Around is Klein’s 25th book on harnessing the power of humor to make a better life.

“You are the only person who can ruin your day,” Klein writes. He says our reactions to any thought or action determines how we perceive that thought or action, and we have ultimate control over our reactions.

To bolster his case, Klein, 77, quotes rabbis, Japanese proverbs, Desmond Tutu, Chinese philosophers, Pema Chodron (an American Buddhist nun) and even Alexander Pope, the 18th century poet.

The gist of Klein’s message? Lighten up.

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