Tag Archives: mood

Is it SAD or the Winter Blues?

Sad smiley emoticon face drawn on snow covered glass

If you find yourself feeling down during the coldest months of the year, you’re not alone. Whether on a ship or working shore duty, it can be challenging for Sailors to get outside and reap the benefits of natural sunlight, especially in winter.

Many people face the “winter blues” – a generally mild sadness that’s usually linked to something specific, like stressful holidays or reminders of absent friends or loved ones. The winter blues are unpleasant but usually short-term in duration. More severe sadness that sticks around longer may indicate that you are experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and not just the winter blues.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, about five percent of Americans suffer from SAD, a form of depression that can last 40 percent of the year and is usually most severe in January and February in the U.S. SAD is a clinical disorder that must be diagnosed by a professional.

SAD, like other forms of depression, can be debilitating, with symptoms that may affect every aspect of daily life. Some common symptoms include fatigue, mood swings and changes in appetite. The effects of SAD are typically seen in the winter months when there is less sunlight (though this may vary with geographic location) and symptoms usually improve with the arrival of spring. Whether it’s SAD or the more-common winter blues, there are steps you can take to help yourself and your shipmates.

Why Winter?

We all have an internal biological or circadian clock. This 24-hour “master clock” uses cues in your surroundings to help keep you awake and to help you sleep. Our circadian clocks are highly sensitive to changes in light and dark. When days are shorter and nights are longer, the body’s internal rhythm can be altered, and lead to changes in two specific chemicals, melatonin and serotonin.

At night, a gland in the brain produces and releases melatonin, a chemical that helps you sleep. Changes in season and sunlight can disrupt the normal levels of melatonin, contributing to disrupted sleep patterns and mood changes. Serotonin is a brain chemical affecting mood, and reduced sunlight can cause serotonin levels to plummet.

Lack of direct exposure to sunlight can also lead to deficiencies in Vitamin D. Strong associations have been found between vitamin D deficiency and depression, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Many who are Vitamin D deficient don’t know it,” said CAPT Tara Smith, Ph.D., clinical psychologist assigned to OPNAV N171. “it’s very hard to get outside the skin of the ship and feel the sun on your face underway, and even in Iraq you’re completely covered. Although it’s a sunny 135 degrees, you’re not getting any sun on your skin.” Being Vitamin D deficient can contribute to sadness, especially in winter.

Beating the Blues

There are several treatments used to help those suffering from seasonal mood changes. For SAD, these can include talk therapy, light treatments, vitamin regimens or medications. Although symptoms of the winter blues usually improve with the change of season there are a few ways you can help your body adjust:

  • Optimize your sleep. Fatigue can affect mood, performance, memory and judgement. Aim for seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, preferably at the same time each day. If you can’t get that amount of uninterrupted sleep, compensating with a nap has proven benefits. Crew Endurance, developed by Naval Postgraduate School with collaboration from Navy’s Operational Stress Control Program, offers practical tips, research and operational tools for promoting adequate rest.
  • Choose foods that help to balance your mood. Studies indicate people who suffer from SAD may have lower levels of serotonin in the winter months. A balanced diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein can provide a natural source of serotonin. Try a breakfast of steel cut oatmeal, bananas and eggs for a mood-balancing boost. Check out this post for additional tips.
  • Go for a workout outdoors. It may be chilly, but exercising outdoors when possible during daytime hours can help you soak up some Vitamin D even when it’s not particularly sunny. Plus, physical activity improves your mood, helps you sleep, increases endurance and helps you navigate stress. Round up a few shipmates and go for a run around the flight-deck, try a group fitness class on your installation, sweat it out on the yoga mat or get fit with interval training.

When to Seek Help

It’s important to recognize that SAD is a serious condition and is characterized by the same symptoms as other forms of depression. Signs may include a sustained feeling of depression that occurs most days and most of every day, loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed, low energy and feelings of sluggishness, hopelessness or agitation. Sometimes, symptoms may start off mild and progress in severity over time. Symptoms of a Vitamin D deficiency can mimic SAD, but also include issues like joint pain. If you suspect a Vitamin D deficiency, a simple visit to your Primary Care Manager (PCM) for a blood test can determine your levels, Smith said.

No one has to try and navigate seasonal depression or SAD alone. Reach out to a mental health provider at your command, installation or nearest military treatment facility, or seek confidential non-medical counseling from Military OneSource. If you feel hopeless or are thinking of suicide, get immediate help through the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, press 1.

For more information on psychological health and navigating stress, like U.S. Navy Operational Stress Control on Facebook or follow @NavStress on Twitter. For additional resources, messages and materials, download the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign’s FY-19 1 Small ACT Toolkit.

Mind Over Mood: Six Ways to Think Positively


Positive thinking can improve your mood and help you keep stress in check. Here are six ways you can turn negative thoughts into positive thoughts:

  1. Don’t Overgeneralize. Overgeneralization is the belief that because something happened once it will happen again.
  • You have trouble sleeping this week and think “I will never get a good night’s sleep.” Instead, replace never with more accurate words such as sometimes or occasionally.
  1. Manage your Mental Filter. Using a mental filter means focusing on the negative details of a situation and ignoring the positive aspects.
  • Your children say they love you but wish you would not yell so often and you think “I am a terrible parent.” Instead, challenge yourself to use a calm, positive tone in the future.
  1. Avoid Jumping to Conclusions. Jumping to conclusions is quickly making assumptions without all the facts.
  • A friend has not returned your phone call and you think “I must have done something to anger him.” Instead, allow yourself time to rethink what may have happened and check in with him again.
  1. Beware of Magnification. Magnification is blowing negative situations out of proportion.
  • Your boss points out an area where you can improve and you think “I am awful at my job.” Instead, choose not to let a small mistake overshadow your accomplishments.
  1. Drop the Labels.Labeling is attaching a general label to yourself or others based on a limited amount of information.
  • You forget about a doctor’s appointment you scheduled and you think “I am an idiot.” Instead, remind yourself that you only missed one appointment and come up with a reminder system for the future.
  1. Relieve yourself of Blame.Blaming is holding yourself responsible for an act you did not do or placing your pain onto others.
  • You and your spouse get in an argument and you think “It’s all your fault. You always make me angry.” Instead, use your energy to solve problems together instead of placing blame.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Support

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of counseling used to help you understand and change the way you think and behave. Try the following strategies on your own to increase your positive thinking:

  • Identify Your Negative Thoughts. Write them down and determine which forms of negative thinking you use often. Use the above examples to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Examine the Evidence. Ask yourself if your negative thoughts are actually true. List the evidence that supports and goes against your thoughts. Come up with a more balanced thought that takes all the evidence into consideration.
  • Show Yourself Compassion. Avoid putting yourself down. Treat yourself in the same kind way you would treat a friend.

The way you choose to think about an event in your life can influence how you feel and act. Challenge yourself to recognize and change negative thoughts as a way to improve your mood and behavior.

This article was contributed by the Real Warriors Campaign and can be viewed in its original form at www.realwarriors.net/veterans/treatment/positivethinking.php.

A Buffet of Tips to Make Healthy Food Choices during the Holidays


Amidst the bright lights, decorations and cards, this time of year may evoke a range of emotions—from excitement and love, to anxiety and loneliness. Whether sharing the holidays with shipmates at sea, enjoying a big meal with family or celebrating solo, your mindset can affect your nutritional choices and vice versa. “Remember it’s all about balanced eating,” says Lt. Cmdr. Amit Sood, OPNAV N17 Nutrition Program Manager. “The food we consume can affect the way we think, feel, act and interact with those around us. A balanced diet is an essential part of preserving our mission readiness and ability to thrive in our personal lives and careers.” Here are a few mealtime tips to help you balance your mood, cravings and the stress of shedding post-holiday pounds this FITmas.

Celebrating the Holidays in the Barracks? While you may miss family dinners this season, you don’t have to spend meals alone. Make plans to share a meal with your roommates and other Sailors in the barracks. Eating together creates a community support system, thwarting feelings of loneliness by promoting shared experience. Opt for healthier menu items like steamed vegetables (frozen steam-in-bag veggies can be found at the commissary), low fat cheeses, and quick sources of protein (canned low-sodium salmon or chicken breast). Check out the Guard Your Health campaign’s Class I Recipes for barracks-friendly meals, like this 8-Can Taco Soup.

Find Yourself Stress Eating More Often? Stress-eating may have gotten a bad rap (but we’re not giving you permission to down a bag of M&Ms while reading this post!). Eating the right foods when your emotions are running high can actually help calm you down, and finding the right foods doesn’t have to add to the stress. For example, try going for a handful of almonds instead of reaching into the candy jar. Almonds contain vitamins B12 and E, as well as magnesium and zinc, helping your body balance “fight or flight” responses when stress strikes. And, you don’t have to banish carbs to Mount Crumpit with the Grinch, just choose wisely! Carbohydrates help the body produce serotonin, which helps promote a sense of calm and reduce cravings. Go for complex carbs like 100% whole grains, remembering that moderation is key. Watch for added ingredients like sugar and other markers of highly-processed food. Green vegetables, beans, corn and potatoes are also smart carb choices.

Practice Mindful Eating. Mindful eating is helpful any time—from stressful situations, to facing a plethora of delicious-but-not-so-nutritious dishes at a holiday meal. To practice mindful eating, start by listening to your body. Ask yourself if you are truly hungry or if you are reaching for food out of emotional pleasure or discomfort. If you are indeed hungry, start with a small serving on your plate (about the size of two fists). Eat your meal with intention, one forkful or spoonful at a time, placing your utensil down between each bite. Focus on your food’s taste, smell, texture and how you feel while eating it. (You can still connect with others during your meal, but try not to talk with your mouth full!) Once you’ve finished your first serving, allow yourself three to five minutes before going for more. Consider whether you’re still hungry or if you’re overindulging just because the food is available. Eating mindfully can help you enjoy the flavor of your meal without plowing through it and seeking more— helping to keep your energy levels balanced and thwart the holiday poundage.

You may not be able to eat your way out of stress altogether, but you can make smart choices to help navigate stress, build resilience and promote Total Sailor Fitness from the inside-out. To help you determine your ideal caloric and nutrient intake, use an online tool such as the SuperTracker on www.choosemyplate.gov.