Adjusting to the Cold

Options exist for the common winter concerns of dry skin, outdoor exercise and seasonal affective disorder.

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Winter can affect the mind and body in a variety of ways – some good, some not so good. Following are a few seasonal conditions that can arise when the weather turns cold, and how to combat them.

Dry skin

John Ashley, a dermatologist with Warren Clinic in Tulsa, says the most common patient complaint during winter is dry, itchy skin.

“It’s very important to make sure that one uses a mild soap like Dove or a body wash with moisturizers in the winter months if you suffer from dry skin,” he says. “Lotions which contain ceramides are much more effective, such as CeraVe.”

Ashley also suggests over-the-counter, 1-percent hydrocortisone ointment if the area affected isn’t too large. Taking fewer hot baths and using a humidifier can help. For those with psoriasis and eczema, the cold weather can make these conditions worse, so frequent moisturizing is a must.

Outdoor exercise

Just because the temperature has dropped doesn’t mean you have to exercise indoors.

“Many workout enthusiasts enjoy the colder season for outdoor exercise,” says Doran Taylor, an exercise specialist at St. John Siegfried Health Club in Tulsa. “The change in temperature and air quality can help strengthen the immune system. You will also tend to burn more calories because of the body’s tendency to have a higher pulse rate to increase body temperature – thermoregulation.”

However, before venturing outdoors, Taylor has four recommendations: dress warmly with added thermal base layers to keep your core warm; warm up properly with some light jogging and/or dynamic stretches; train during the day when it is warmer to get sun exposure for some vitamin D; and don’t skip the cool down, because your muscles may tighten when going into indoor warmth.

“Another helpful hint is to work out as soon as you can,” Taylor says. “Whether you have time in the morning, during your lunch break, or directly after work, waiting too long in the evening will cause you to lose motivation. Early exercise has tons of benefits. It helps boost your metabolism so that you will continue to burn calories throughout the day, enhances mood, and increases focus during the work day.”

Seasonal affective disorder

Dr. Tessa Manning, with Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital in Tulsa, says seasonal affective disorder is a form of major depression that occurs during a specific season every year with full remission during other seasons. While it most often occurs in winter, it can also happen in summer.

The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can vary from mild to severe and include sadness, loss of interest in activities, changes in sleep (typically too much), changes in appetite (typically overeating and carbohydrate cravings), trouble concentrating, loss of energy, feeling hopeless, having negative self-worth and, in severe forms, thoughts of suicide.

“It is more than just ‘winter blues’ in that this disorder causes the person a marked decline in functioning in many areas of life,” Manning says. “This may include withdrawal from social activities, missed time from work or loss of productivity. Patients with a summer depressive pattern may have a different presentation with more insomnia, decrease in appetite and nervousness.”

For those diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, Manning says evidence-based treatments include psychotherapy, light therapy and antidepressants.

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