How I combat the February blahs while living with ALS

Sensory stimulation helps to ease this columnist's seasonal melancholy

Dagmar Munn avatar

by Dagmar Munn |

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Is anyone else feeling winter-bluesy-cabin-feverish? I know I am.

I’ve been feeling that way for the past couple days. It always happens to me at this time of year, and because I live with ALS, it’s especially challenging. I blame my off-kilter mood on February, with its dark mornings and unpredictable weather that forces me to stay indoors with the heat on high.

I know what the antidote is: just go outdoors and take a short walk in the fresh air. Experts agree that this does wonders for improving energy and attitude. But for many of us who live with ALS, being able to step outside whenever we want is no longer an option. Plus, mobility scooters and rollators just don’t do well in rain and snow, and caregivers aren’t always available.

So we remain cooped up, caught in a kind of permanent pause mode, and time seems to stand still. It’s as if we’re stuck in our own mental ALS waiting room.

Maybe you have February all under control and can successfully dodge and weave your way to springtime. But just in case you need a little help, let me share what I do.

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Let there be light

Ideally, we should be exposed to bright, natural sunlight for the bulk of the day. But decreased sunlight during the winter months causes serotonin levels in our brain to drop, which in turn leads to changes in our mood. It also plays havoc with our internal time clock, affecting the release of melatonin. Without that, we stay drowsy all day.

I’m usually working on my laptop on our dining room table, next to several big windows. Throughout most of the year, this gives me enough bright light to keep my mood balanced. But on cloudy, bad-weather days, I try to spend a few hours in my sewing room, where I have a full-spectrum lamp.

Using full-spectrum light is now a first-line treatment to help reduce seasonal depression and the blahs of winter. Full-spectrum lamps and bulbs are readily available from local hardware and craft stores and come in many sizes and affordable price ranges.

Improve the smell

When we spend extended time in rooms with dull, stale air, our sense of smell can easily become numb and our alertness and energy level drop. Aromatherapy — the use of concentrated extracts of roots, leaves, seeds, and blossoms — is a great and natural way to clear the air and manage our mood. Air sprays, lotions, votive candles, or diffusers are all common ways to use aromatherapy in the home.

A super-quick DIY method is to simply peel an orange and look for the misty spray that comes from breaking the peel. That is the orange’s essential oil surrounding you — instant aromatherapy!

Mint or coffee aromas can be used to energize and help keep us awake. Just fill a small cup or bowl with whole coffee beans and keep it nearby. Hold it under your nose and inhale whenever you need to increase alertness.

Treat yourself to a sound bath

Music has often been called the universal language of emotion because a number of regions of our brain become active when we’re listening to it. And my particular favorite, the simple sounds of nature, can produce feelings of calm and relaxation.

I keep a list of handy links to ambient sounds of birds, water, wind chimes, and gentle rain ready to click on whenever I need a calming background sound. In fact, I’m listening to this selection while I’m writing this column.

For more strategies and tips to help you combat the February blahs, check out the column “5 Things That Keep Me Motivated.”

We can ride out this month together and live well while living with ALS.

Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.


Kevin R avatar

Kevin R

Dagmar, you are a gem! Every time I read one of your articles, I learn something valuable or am reminded of something I knew but had let slip or forgotten and now am motivated to try again. Thank you!

Dagmar Munn avatar

Dagmar Munn

Thank you for your kind words Kevin! I am always happy to know that what I write is helpful to other pALS :-) Best wishes to you!

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