In our promotion of attractions, events and accommodations designed to get you out and about this winter, the accent on our Cabin Fever Reliever campaign has been on fun.

But the truth is that at its core, the winter blahs we've been discussing can actually be quite serious.

Known officially as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), feelings of listlessness, boredom and even depression can settle in around this time of year and lead to a host of other problems.

Left to right: Jason Zimmerman, Omar Alsaadi, Kellie Jingozian

Zimmerman and his team.

"It's natural for people to feel a little ‘down' at this time of year," says psychotherapist Jason Zimmerman, of the Creekwood Center, Abington Memorial Hospital. "The days get shorter and shorter, and the quality and length of daylight are diminished. But that's natural. It's cold and snowy, and our enthusiasm for everyday activities and interactions might dip in the January-February-March months."

He continues: "It can get problematic, however, when it represents a pattern; when people find themselves feeling this same sense of hopelessness at the same time, year after year."

Sunlight, according to Zimmerman, is partly to blame. "In the same way that mammals hibernate, our natural response to dwindling daylight is to slow down. But 21st century lives that are busy with work and family obligations don't allow for that."

Significant changes in sleep habits and eating habits are warning signs," the therapist says. "Over-sleeping may be a signal. So, too, is the reduced quality of sleep. Another is carb-craving and weight gain."

Confirmed cases of SAD vary based on geography. Citing statistics from his two interns, Kellie Jingozian and Omar Alsaadi, Zimmerman notes: "In New Hampshire, it appears in about nine percent of the population. Here in the mid-Atlantic, statistics show it in the five-to-six percent range." He jokes: "So for SAD diagnoses, a vacation in to the islands might be the perfect prescription - although I'm not sure health insurance companies would provide coverage."

In listing more practical methods for fighting the chronic feeling of bleakness that can set in during the winter, Zimmerman recommends:

    • Get plenty of exercise. "The natural release of endorphins is a significant mood-lifter," Zimmerman says. Statistical data compiled by Alsaadi show that ten minutes of walking a day can produce the same calming effect of endorphins as a minimal dose of Prozac.
    • Tap your support systems. Get out socially. Spend time with family and friends. Connect and share.
    • Plan. Knowing that difficult weather and dark nights are going to settle in for a while, investigate clubs, hobbies and other activities to stay engaged.
    • Keep your creative spark alive. Take a painting class. Fill the canvas with bold, bright springtime colors. Share your enthusiasm with fellow students.

Abington Art Center offers an abundance of creative classes!

  • See a health-care professional if you feel particularly depressed or anxiety-stricken over a long period of time.

Valley Forge and Montgomery County offer numerous opportunities for counteracting SAD.

In terms of exercise:

Valley Forge National Historical Park

  • Downhill skiing can get your heart racing at Spring Mountain. The sunny view at the mountaintop can't help but lift your spirits.

Spring Mountain

  • In the quest for mood elevation, why not elevate your whole person? The trampolines at Sky Zone will leave you breathlessly soaring.

Want to pick up a new skill?

  • Culinary classes at Sur la Table address everything from the basics of knife skills to the flair of French cooking. Instructions for couples lets you share the fun.
  • Abington Art CenterSteve's Sewing and Vacuum offers 75 classes during the year, including those in quilting, knitting and sewing. Its slate of kid classes is very popular, too.
  • Morris Arboretum's coursework is perfect for gardeners wanting to get a jump on spring planning. Want spectacular roses in June? Gain that know-how now.
  • Feed your artistic side at a workshop at Abington Art Center. Classwork covers topics such as jewelry, digital photography, dyeing and even poetry.

Laugh! Reports show that laughter boosts levels of melatonin. Here are some of our sillier sites:

  • It's hard to keep a straight face for very long while viewing the knucklehead comedy on permanent display at the Stoogeum. Peruse the extensive collection of memorabilia, then make your way to the 85-seat theater and enjoy a laugh-out-loud marathon of The Three Stooges' short films.

The Stoogeum

  • The laughs are long and loud at the Valley Forge Casino Resort's rotation of once-a-month comedy shows. Recent appearances have included Mark Demayo, whose 20 years as a NYC cop provide a wealth of comedic inspiration; Kendra Cunningham, a veteran of Caroline's in New York; and Pete Davidson, who, at 18, was regularly opening for Nick Cannon.
  • The Colonial Theater, a gem of a movie house, not only features the "Comedy at the Colonial" series of stand-up stars but also film series that spotlight geniuses from Buster Keaton to Blake Edwards to Mel Brooks.

Sometimes, a mere change of scenery can change your mood. A number of our area hotels and accommodations feature indoor pools. What a better way to scoff at Old Man Winter than from a lounge chair, breathing in the evocative scent of chlorine? After your swim, dig in to some fine cuisine and then retire to your suite. Our website has plenty of recommendations, including several special discounts that are part of our current Cabin Fever Reliever promotions.