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Dance (or Sing or Read) Winter Doldrums Away

Tired of being cooped up? Tired of feeling frigid and isolated? Afraid to drive for fear of black ice or sustaining a compound fracture getting into or out of your car? Fellow Fairfield County denizens, take heart. You are not alone!

More than half the new patients who've consulted me since Christmas about depression connect the winter weather with their emotional wellbeing. Disruptions at work, school and home are causing stress, especially the small business owners and employees who depend on customer traffic. You'd think the snowplow drivers and plumbers would be happy about their booming business, but being besieged with irate calls from homeowners who can't get out of their driveways or use the water because of busted pipes is not a lot of fun.

Given that we're only half way through winter, with more of the same predicted, here's what I'm telling my patients about staying sane.

Rule number one. Stay physically and mentally active. And, as Stew Leonard says, "Rule number two: when in doubt, refer to rule number one." The most adaptive coping I know is to make the best out of a bad situation. Use this time to reassess your lifestyle and introduce healthier habits. Make a list -- it's a great way to prioritize your goals.

If you have stairs, walk up and down them. If you have on old Jane Fonda CD, dust it off and get moving. Dig out your Led Zeppelin or Santana and dance -- it's enjoyable for the family and good for your relationships. The last deejay party my wife and I attended felt like an hour of aerobics! Remember, you don't need a gym membership to do pushups or stretching, and coffee table books make excellent free weights.

Use your imagination. Listening to music is good but making music is even better. Get out your guitar. Play a few scales on that trombone or clarinet. Plug in the bass (assuming the electricity is still on). The next thing you know, you and your spouse or kids might be jamming or working on a new tune. The same thing applies with books, as reading a good story is stimulating. Making up a new one is even better. Try this: gather the family and have someone make up the beginning of a story. Every two minutes get the next person to continue. And so on. It's fun.

What do kids do on snow days? They play and improvise. Why shouldn't we?

You get the point. Get off the couch and turn off the tube. It's a perfect time to bust out the Wi Fit or open the Rosetta Stone you got for Christmas. And here's the best news of all, anything new you learn, you get to keep forever. Besides, since you're not going out to the mall, it won't cost you a dime.

Editor's note: Jeff Deitz MD is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in Trumbull and New York. He lives in Norwalk and teaches at Beth Israel Medical Center. He writes about mental health topics for the New York Times.

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