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Asperger's Adults and Winter Depression

Winter depression affects many people, but for those with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism, this phenomenon can be even more pronounced. Winter depression is a mystery to researchers who study it. Many factors seem to be involved (e.g., brain chemicals, ions in the air, genetics, etc.). But scientists agree that individuals who suffer from winter depression have one very important thing in common: they're especially sensitive to light, or the lack of it.

Here are some quick tips for overcoming winter depression:

1. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol is actually a depressant. Rather than improving your mood, it only makes it worse. Avoiding alcohol when you are already depressed is a good idea.

2. Burn some candles. If you don’t have a fireplace, do the next best thing and light some candles. Then sit and watch them burn, or read a good book beside them.

3. Do something challenging. Stretch yourself in some small way every winter (e.g., take a writing class, research the genetics of mood disorders, build a website, etc.). It keeps your brain from freezing like the rest of your body.

4. Dress in bright colors. There seems to be a link between feeling optimistic and sporting bright colors.

5. Eat healthy. Avoid refined and processed foods (e.g., white breads, rice, and sugar). These foods are not only devoid of the nutrients your body craves, but they zap your energy levels and can affect your mood—causing depression, lack of concentration, and mood swings. Depressives and addicts need to be especially careful with sweets, because the addiction to sugar and white-flour products is very real and physiological, affecting the same biochemical systems in your body as other drugs like heroin.

6. Enjoy the season. Instead of avoiding the ice and snow, look for the best that winter has to offer (e.g., ice skating, snowboarding, hockey, sledding, etc.). Enjoy these activities while they last, because they’re only here a few months each year.

7. Find a hobby. Keeping your mind active with a new interest seems to ward off symptoms of depression (e.g., play bridge, sing, knit, keep a journal, etc.). The important thing is that you have something to look forward to and concentrate on.

8. Follow through with your New Year’s resolutions. There is a strong link between healthy behaviors and depression. People who exhibit healthy behaviors (e.g., exercising, not smoking, etc.) have less sad and depressed days than those whose behaviors are less than healthy.

9. Get a light lamp. Bright-light therapy, involving sitting in front of a fluorescent light box, can be as effect as antidepressant medication for mild and moderate depression.

10. Get plenty of sleep. Get 7-8 hours each night, and try to keep your bedtime and waking time consistent. That way, sleeping patterns will normalize and you’ll have more energy.

11. Get some social support. Don’t underestimate the power of friends, family, mentors, co-workers, and neighbors. Find safe people you can turn to when you’re down and need a pick-me-up.

12. Go to counseling. Counseling, psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy can help you cope with depression.

13. Perform daily small acts of kindness. The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. A sense of purpose, committing oneself to a noble mission, and acts of altruism are strong antidotes to depression.

14. Treat yourself. Having something to look forward to can keep you motivated. Plan something that’s exciting to you (e.g., a weekend trip, a day at the spa, a party, a play, a sporting event, etc.).

15. Start and complete a project. Projects like organizing bookshelves, shredding old tax returns, and cleaning out the garage are perfect activities for the dreary months of the year.

16. Take Omega-3′s. Researchers have confirmed the positive effects of this natural, anti-inflammatory molecule on emotional health. One 500mg soft gel capsule meets the doctor-formulated 7:1 EPA to DHA ratio, needed to elevate and stabilize mood.

17. Get help if all else fails. If your symptoms are so bad that you can't live a normal life, see your doctor for medical help. Some antidepressants like Paxil and Prozac work for many individuals who suffer from the winter blues.


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Coping Strategies for Adults with Asperger's

I recently asked a few of my adult Asperger’s (High-Functioning Autistic) clients to tell me what has really worked for them in the way of coping strategies. Here are their answers:

Mark Hutten: “As you look back on your life, what has been your most effective coping strategy?”

Rick: “I think my most effective coping strategy has been my faith in God. I don't go to church as much as I should, or read the Bible as much as I should, but I do have a strong belief that God is with me and helps me through my trials. He has always come through for me.”

Michael: “What has worked for me more than anything else is staying in shape and working out. I try to do cardio in the morning and weight-bearing exercises in the afternoon. Staying in shape is both a distraction for me and a mood elevator, which helps me to cope with other things that come up in my day.”

Rhonda: “Well, I consider myself to be a lifelong learner. I like to read, and I keep my mind active by educating myself on new subject matter. Gaining new knowledge in an area that is new to me helps me to focus on things other than my personal problems. I also go to my local college and take classes periodically. So staying mentally sharp helps me to cope.”

Sarah: “Counseling has been the best technique for me. I come here every week. I can talk to the group about personal matters that I wouldn't feel comfortable talking about with anyone else, and you guys give me great feedback and insight. It helps me see things from a different perspective, which keeps me from taking life too seriously and taking other people's behavior to personally.”

David: “I have a couple close friends that have been a big help to me. I could probably have as many friends as I want to, but I'm not a very social person by nature. I would rather have one or two close friends than a dozen wishy-washy friends. My friends are very similar to me with regard to temperament. So we click together pretty good. We can laugh at life, which is a great stress reliever for me.”

Katherine: "What seems to help me through life in general is my job. For the most part, I enjoy my work. It brings me a lot of satisfaction. I'm preoccupied with job related matters most of the day. It seems to be a source of good stress rather than bad stress for me, if that makes sense."

Shawn: “My wife has been the best source to help me to cope. She holds me accountable, but when I have a meltdown, she usually backs-off because she knows that my meltdown only lasts for short period of time. If I'm upset, she doesn't get upset because I'm upset. She helps me to calm down. I love her very much and she's my best friend.”

Allan: “Music helps me to cope. I play several musical instruments, and it's easy for me to express my feelings as I'm playing the instrument. I can express all of my emotions whenever I am playing music. If I feel frustrated, I can play frustrated feelings in my music. If I am happy, then my music sounds happy too. It is a natural way for me to get rid of painful emotions.”

Thomas: “Probably what helps me to cope every day is to just lie down on the couch and watch a good movie with my cat. It helps me to calm down and enjoy a couple hours in the day. My cat is very playful, and this reminds me to keep it simple and make it fun. She reminds me that play is just as important as work.”

Tina: “I enjoyed cooking. Cooking new dishes is relaxing to me. I enjoy experimenting with different recipes. Cooking is kind of a hobby for me. It involves several steps ...going to the grocery and getting good ingredients ...coming home and putting the recipe together ...cooking ...and then the best part, eating it. I also enjoy experimenting with different wines. For example, red wine goes good with pasta, and certain white wines go better with seafood. So it is always fun to connect the best wine to a particular dish.”

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

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