By Brenda Owen

Daily Journal

If it feels like the dead of winter, that's exactly what it is dead center.

At precisely 3:10 p.m. (EST) today, 44 days, 11 hours and 53 minutes of winter will have elapsed, and the equivalent will remain before 3:03 a.m. (EST) on March 20, 1996. Spring begins on that date.

Now, according to whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, that means either winter is only half over or that spring is half-way here. For a lot of Northeast Mississippians it also means the mid-winter blahs are bogging them down.

If you're feeling a little melancholy today, you've probably got a lot of company, says Dr. Joe Ed Morris, a Tupelo psychologist.

"These feelings can range from just a case of the blahs to clinical depression," Morris said. Some people may also be victims of Seasonal Affect Disorder, also known as "SAD," he said.

"This disorder is not as uncommon as we think it is," Morris said. "It has to do with the loss of light, and it doesn't even have to be a seasonal thing. It can be two or three cloudy days in a row in the summer but it is most prevalent at this time of year."

If you're feeling down, Morris suggests exposing yourself to lighting even if it's from an artificial source. "Studies have shown that people who stay under lamps during dark days see a decrease in their symptoms," he said, "Some kinds of lighting are better than others, but all light works to some extent."

Tupelo family counselor Joy Arnold tells gloomy clients to hit the road or track or wherever they can take a brisk walk.

"Get your body moving," she said. "Stir up those endorphins."

Arnold explained that endorphins are chemicals which occur naturally in the body to help lift the spirits. Even a short brisk walk can energize, cut tension and increase optimism, she said.

"It also helps to laugh," Arnold said, "whether it's by watching Seinfeld or getting together with funny friends."

Other suggestions by Morris and Arnold:

- Pamper yourself. Arnold recommended massage therapy or a luxurious bubble bath. "Whatever makes you feel good," she said. Go shopping, get your hair done, or just curl up by the fire with a good book.

- Accentuate the positive. To bring the positive aspects of your life into focus, trying writing them down. "In old-fashioned terms, it's called 'counting your blessings,'" Arnold said. "It may sound trite, but it works." For those who understand and practice them, positive affirmations also work well, she said. "In other words," she said, "Give yourself a pep talk."

- Pick a pet to pet. The benefits of caring for and cuddling a pet have long been documented. Whether you choose to walk the dog or just watch the goldfish lazily swimming around his glass domain, pets can do wonders for the doldrums. "If you don't have a pet, go get one," Arnold said.

- Play some mood music. Whether it's bouncy and joyful or magnificent and uplifting, music can set the mood. Some experts say music may work by conditioned response. "We associate certain songs with good moods and turn them on when we to cheer ourselves up," Arnold said. Upbeat lyrics may also distract you from your misery, she said, and moving to music can release tension.

-Focus on family. Plan family functions that get everybody involved. "Most people who are depressed are lonely people and have allowed themselves to become isolated," Morris said. The solution, he said, is to get out and get involved with people.

- Lend a helping hand. If you can't get outside, get outside yourself. "Some people are depressed because of heredity, chemistry and other physical factors, but most depression is self-centered," Morris said. "When we're having a down day, my wife and I have some charities we participate in. Not only do you feel you've helped somebody, but once you get outside yourself, you're distracted and if you're distracted you're not thinking about the gloom."

More than the blues

Being temporarily bothered by the blahs should not be confused with chronic clinical depression, cautioned both Morris and Arnold.

"Depression that lasts for an extended period of time may signal the need to seek professional help," Arnold said.

Opinions vary as to what causes depression. What is known is that nerve cells communicate by squirting a bit of substance called a neurotransmitter which causes adjoining nerve cells to react and signal their neighbors. Meanwhile, the first cell reabsorbs and neutralizes some of its transmitter chemicals. In depressed people, there isn't enough of some transmitters that affect the mood. Antidepressants may work by stopping the brain from reabsorbing and neutralizing the chemicals so fast.

Estimates also vary on the incidence of depression in the country, but according to a recent article in Fortune magazine, indications are that about 15 percent of the U. S. population will have a serious depression at some time in their lives, usually before they're 40. Studies show the incidence of depression has been rising sharply among those born since the 1940s. Baby boomers and busters are three to six times more likely to report a depression than older people. Reasons for the increase are not clear, but are more than just a greater awareness of depression among young people and a willingness to admit it. Some experts believe that successive generations have higher expectations from life and are more likely to be disappointed while others blame diminished family stability, the article states.

If the depression is mild, it may be treated with antidepressant medication or short-term therapy, Morris and Arnold said.

Some major signals of depression are feeling down in the dumps, becoming disinterested in pleasurable activities, feelings of tension and low energy.

Other key indicators include:

- significant weight loss or gain

- excessive sleeping or sleeplessness

- fatigue

- slowed body movements

- feelings of guilt or worthlessness

- indecision, forgetfulness

- inability to concentrate

- thoughts of suicide or death

If you experience any or all of these symptoms for more than a few days, you should probably see a doctor, they said.

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