Are you feeling the winter blues? As southwestern Pennsylvanians, we average only 162 sunny or partly sunny days throughout the year. Reduced sunlight exposure can lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is associated with low energy levels, irritability, and problems getting along with other people. With SAD, it is difficult to find motivation and maintain a positive social support system.
For individuals living with COPD, SAD has a compounding effect on the social isolation already felt from their disease. For example, individuals with lung disease already have barriers that make it difficult for them to go outside. Just think about what they need to consider: “Will I have enough oxygen to last the entire day?,” “Do I have my rescue inhaler?,” “Will there be places to rest so that my breathing doesn’t become too difficult?” Because of the challenges that people with lung disease face, they may decide to forgo social gatherings and activities outside of their home altogether. The visible changes that occur to individuals with lung disease can lead to further isolation. Self-consciousness of breathing patterns, physical limitations, and oxygen equipment are barriers that may be exaggerated by SAD.
While you can’t change the weather, there are steps you can take to beat the winter blues.
- First, expose your home to as much sun as possible – Keep your home light and bright by opening the blinds and using sheer curtains instead of bulky window coverings. Simply switching out your light bulbs can have a tremendous impact in your home.
- Second, get moving by incorporating reasonable exercise into your life. Simply walking for a few minutes a day, at your own pace, can help combat SAD. Now, more than ever, is the perfect time to talk with your lung doctor about pulmonary rehabilitation.
- Third, get outside when you can. Even if you are only outdoors for a few minutes, take advantage of the mild sunny days. Breathe Pennsylvania offers free cold-weather masks to make going outside easier on your lungs.
- Finally, talk with your doctor. Your doctor may recommend photo-therapy, which is a light box that mimics sunshine, or a mild anti-depressant such as Wellbutrin.
Living with lung disease can be hard enough without the effects of SAD. Talk with your doctor today!