Are you a blue bear?

It's winter.  Bears hibernate.  If you want to maintain recovery, you shouldn't!

Cold weather, the holidays and 15 hour nights are quickly moving into our neck of the woods.

While I enjoy the beauty of Northern Michigan covered in snow, seeing family around the holidays and eating excessive amounts of chili and cornbread, I have to be careful to maintain balance in my life. 

With the short, overcast days, fewer opportunities to be outdoors, and stress that can come with holiday festivities, it's easy to get into a winter slump.  A slump can quickly turn into the winter blues.  The blues can get pretty bad if I'm not careful. 

It is easy to justify being indoors for extended periods of time.  Sleeping late and staying under the covers can become a habit.  Going to be early, avoiding social opportunities and neglecting my mental, emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing can become commonplace.

Some call it cabin fever.  For many of us, it is much more than that.  The winter blues can become more like a nasty infection that will only get worse if not treated.

There is actually a clinical diagnoses for the winter blues:  Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

SAD is basically seasonal depression which manifests in some people when the days get short, cold and dark.  Feeling irritable, sluggish, overly tired, and unmotivated are all clues that we can look for.  Those that struggle with addiction and even those already in recovery can be more at risk than your average person.  If you want to maintain your sanity during this winter, try these seven activities to fight off the blues.

  • GET OUTSIDE.  I don't care if it's too cold, if it's snowing or if you don't feel like getting off the couch.  Go outside anyways!  Something as simple as going for a 20 minute walk or shoveling your driveway while listening to your favorite tunes can do wonders.  Even if it's gloomy outside, you still get a shot of Vitamin D, your oxygen levels increase, your heart pumps more blood and the cobwebs clear from your mind.  Don't let the cold be an excuse.  Get up and go.
  • GET UP EARLIER.  Maximize the daylight hours by getting your rear out of bed.  While I love sleeping late once and while, when this becomes a habit I'm not using all the available daylight to my benefit.  Here in mid-Michigan the sun rise around 7:30 and it's dark by 5.  If the sun is up, you should be too. 
  • EXERCISE.  No, going for a ten minute walk or shoveling your driveway doesn't count.  Sorry.  I'm talking about breaking a hard sweat.  Ideally, you should do this every single day.  Realistically, if you get some form of vigorous exercise 3-5 times a week, you will notice a major improvement in your mood, energy levels and overall serenity.  Vigorous exercises produces a chemical in the brain called dopamine - the same chemical that is released by using drugs, alcohol, food, sex or anything else that is done obsessively that is pleasurable.  When exercise becomes a part of our daily routine, the overall levels of dopamine in our brain increases.  We actually create dopamine reserves that can help us fight off the blues.  It's much like canning fruits and vegetables and putting them in the cellar.  They are there when you need them.  Bears
  • STAY ENGAGED WITH FAMILY & FRIENDS.   No, Facebook and Instagram do not count.  I'm talking about leaving the house and getting together with the people that matter to you.  I don't care if you go to a Broadway play or just meet for coffee.  Get out and engage with other people.  Do things.  See things.  Explore your area.  Plan a trip.  Go do something you've never done to keep life interesting.  Remember, no excuses. Just get moving.  A great way to stay stuck in the blues is to stay home and do nothing.  Don't do that.
  • MAKE A GRATITUDE LIST & ADD TO IT DAILY.  Simple, but highly effective.  When I got sober, this was one of the first things my sponsor told me to do.  It works for anyone - addicted, recovering, or not.  Write down what you are grateful for and refer to it daily.  There is always something new to appreciate.
  • MAKE A SCHEDULE & KEEP IT.  Don't wake up and not have a plan.  That couch looks pretty comfortable, even more so when it's 20° outside and snowing.  Schedule your 12-Step meetings, exercise, appointments, social activities, and down time so you are always staying one step ahead of the blues.
  • SUPERCHARGE YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE.  Winter is a good time to read.  Make this part of your routine as well.  Buy a spiritual or self-development book and commit to readking 30 minutes a day.  Spend time in prayer or meditation to your Higher Power.  Keeping your mind sharp , clear and feeding it with good, healthy information is a weapon against the blues. 

 Remember that action is the greatest weapon against SAD and depression.  Get up, get moving and don't get stuck in the blues.  Take you body out of the cave, and your mind will follow.

Paul Wolanin
Paul is a therapist at Ten16's residential program, and a regular contributor to the blog.


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