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Winter blues

Published January 28. 2011 05:00PM

It's been a brutal month of winter weather for many in the Northeast and it's taking a toll on budgets - both personal and governmental - as well as on the physical and mental health of individuals

Every week seems to bring one or two major storms and with it the snow piles grow higher, as do the bills for municipalities to deal with the frozen precipitation. A number of towns and cities up and down the East Coast have already equaled or exceeded the amount they had budgeted for snow removal this winter.

While Easterners are usually better prepared to cope with a major snow event, it's especially taxing to those in the south not used to snowy conditions. North Carolina is already $4 million over budget for snow removal and Georgia has used used up nearly all of its allocated funds.

While the snow takes a heavy toll on budgets, it also impacts our mental health. Digging or shoveling out, driving on treacherous roads, trudging through the deep snow in bitter cold or being stranded along a road or in an airport for hours can all stretch our abilities to cope.

There's also a physical toll. Slips and falls multiply during snow events or in freezing conditions when streets and sidewalks ice up. People, not used to the physical labor or strain are cautioned to be aware of their limitations and heart health while attempting to shovel out and remove snow from their sidewalks or driveways.

Storms can also have a psychological downside. When skies darken during a storm, people with Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD are especially affected. Studies show that people with SAD feel depressed since their bodies do not produce enough serotonin, a neurotransmitter produced in the brain that can alter our mood. With the increase of positive ions in the atmosphere, people become more cranky.

For those who consider their glasses half full rather than half empty, there is an upside to the rough winter weather. While the negative thinkers consider being sheltered inside the home for a long period as a bad thing - causing cabin fever - it can also lead to quality time with family. What better time to bond with a spouse or with the children?

Lending a helping hand to a distressed neighbor or motorist during a storm can also promote positive relations. It's true that times of stress often bring out the best in people.

On the personal health side, those who do manual work such as shoveling - without overextending themselves - can improve their heart health and even overcome depression. Nothing is better for overcoming depression than to be active and busy working.

Children of course are not as negatively affected by the stresses attached to a winter storm. When one youngster was asked how it felt to be missing school again due to a snow day, he quickly replied "like heaven."

But the most positive thought for many of us is to just think spring, which begins on March 21, and of those warm summer months that follow.

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