Big Data: Can We Predict Population Trends (Like Happiness) via Health Apps?

World of Psychology
Big Data: Can We Predict Population Trends (Like Happiness) via Health Apps?

Big Data: Can We Predict Population Trends (Like Happiness) via Health Apps?More than five years ago, I penned a piece entitled Reliability and Validity in a Web 2.0 World. It spoke about the concerns of gathering data from biased samples — without first understanding in what ways, exactly, those samples may be biased.

Now, with the ubiquity of apps — downloadable programs for people’s smartphones — I’m seeing the same problem arise. Developers and entrepreneurs are pursuing data from these apps without understanding the basics of good, reliable, scientific data collection. And why it matters — especially when you start wanting to analyze all of this “big data” (a somewhat silly term… in epidemiology, for instance, scientists just call it “data”).

Can personal health data be collected by these apps without bias, and somehow be transformed into measuring something bigger?

The short answer: no, not easily.

Sure, there are people who are part of a “quantified self” movement — who want to track and measure every aspect of their personal health (and assumedly, mental health). But those people are currently1 outliers, and in no way representative of the population in general.

Such minorities can quickly make up the majority of an effort to collect larger datasets in order to analyze health or well-being trends. While the resulting analyses can tell you something about this group of people, it would be inappropriate to suggest it generalizes to the rest of the population (who, demographically and behaviorally, may look and act very differently).

This won’t change anytime soon, because most health apps are downloaded by people, used once or twice, and then abandoned. There’s a reason most people stop using health apps — especially ones meant to act as a data diary. They’re boring! Collecting data on yourself is just a very boring task for most of us to commit to actively doing every day (or even every week).

The Complicated Answer: Apps Need to Be Smarter, Connected

Health apps meant to collect data ultimately fail because they require active input by the user. This is why personal health records have largely never taken off in any meaningful way.2 People are too busy living their lives to be bothered with telling an app3 what their daily metrics are.

For health apps to ultimately succeed where most other attempts at personal health tracking software has failed is for them to collect their data passively. That means that no input from the user is required.

Of course, we’re a far way from such metrics providing meaningful data. Sure, there are running devices that track how much you run (from Nike, of course). But a running app is useless if it doesn’t talk to my diet app, or my nutrition app, or my exercise app. Or my mindfulness app. It’s one app measuring a single metric in the complex being that is me. It simply isn’t much to go on.

Trust is a Key Cornerstone

Adoption of such networked apps sharing all of your health data have another, less technical, obstacle as well — trust. Companies like Facebook and Nike ultimately answer to only one set of people – their shareholders. That means that if it’s in their best interests to analyze your data for things they can make money off of, they will.

Startups are no better, because instead of shareholders, they answer only to venture capitalists — money lenders who are only looking for the best and quickest return on their investment.

Why would I want to trust my health information — data that could be used against me for future denial of insurance or setting of my insurance rates — to companies who have little interest in protecting my privacy?

Which brings us back again to the first point — a biased sample. People who gladly give all of their health information to for-profit companies to analyze, collate, and eventually associate back to you (even if such data is initially anonymized) are not like most people. Most of us still care about keeping our health information to ourselves, just as most of us still want to keep our financial information to ourselves.

Where We Go from Here

Attempting to gather population-based data (e.g., conducting epidemiological research) from health apps has some issues and opportunities I’ve identified:

  • Biased sampling because of the tiny minority of people who actively and continuously use health apps
  • Sampling and continued usage could be improved by passive versus active data collection
  • Sampling and use could be further improved by use of a trustworthy authority to collect and store data (not a for-profit company or startup)
  • Apps that are aware of one another and exchange relevant health data about me are the next generation — instead of the current wealth of siloed, unaware (stupid?) apps

I think it’s great that developers look at a health problem, develop an app for it, and release it to the world. But all too often these apps go nowhere, with no audience. Or they are orphaned by the original developers for lack of interest. The few popular health apps that gain a robust audience are the exception, not the rule. And even when they do gain widespread acceptance, just like our country’s electronic medical record systems, they don’t talk to one another.

If you want to be able to say something authoritative or meaningful about data collected from an app, you have to show that data comes from a representative sample of the population. Lacking that, your data only tells us about one tiny group in the population — one that doesn’t look like most of us.

Footnotes:

  1. And will be for the foreseeable future
  2. And why Google will finally shut down its own personal health record tomorrow.
  3. Or worse — and more commonly — a whole set of apps that aren’t aware of another and can’t exchange data with one another

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Many ADHD Teens Carry Problems Into Adulthood

Psych Central News
Many ADHD Teens Carry Problems Into Adulthood

Many ADHD Teens Carry Problems Into AdulthoodTeens with ADHD are likely to carry with them a variety of difficulties into adulthood, including problems with physical and mental health, work and finances, according to a new long term study.

Approximately 40 percent of children with ADHD continue to have symptoms into adulthood, according to research from the group Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD).

”ADHD in adolescence has long-lasting effects on adjusting to the vicissitudes of life and is associated with difficulties in being a wage earner, worker, parent, and so forth,” said researcher David W. Brook, M.D., professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine.

The researchers followed 551 teens with ADHD from the time they were 14 to 16 years old until they turned 37. The original study began in 1975.  Brook believes it may be the longest study to follow teens with ADHD to investigate its later impact.

The researchers assessed how well the teens did as they developed from adolescence into early adulthood. They evaluated physical and mental health, work performance, concerns over finances, and other areas.

“We wanted to look at the long-term effects of ADHD in adolescence on later functioning,” Brook says.

Compared to teens and young adults without ADHD, those with ADHD were:

  • nearly twice as likely to have physical health problems;
  • more than twice as likely to have mental health issues;
  • more than five times as likely to have antisocial personality disorder;
  • more than twice as likely to have impaired work performance;
  • more than three times as likely to have financial stress.

The researchers didn’t investigate why the problems of ADHD persist, but Brook has an idea.

“We think it has to do with impaired difficulty in the parent-child relationship when they are teens,” he said.

Parents whose children are diagnosed with ADHD may have trouble forming a close, mutual parent-child relationship, said Brook. A close parent-child relationship may help protect an individual from later problems, he said.

“It’s not surprising at all,” said Ruth Hughes, Ph.D., the CEO of CHADD. “The authors really emphasize the importance of intervention early, and we absolutely agree,” she said. Without early treatment, children can develop very unhealthy coping mechanisms.

For instance, she said, a teen with ADHD may say: “Why try? Everyone says I am a screw-up.” However, if parents and teachers stress the value of trying, and value that over the outcome, the teen may take another view.

Source: Pediatrics

Stressed worker photo by shutterstock.

How to Create Meaningful Resolutions as a Couple

World of Psychology
How to Create Meaningful Resolutions as a Couple

How to Create Meaningful Resolutions as a CoupleAs a couple, you might be interested in creating New Year’s resolutions to improve your relationship. But you might be stumped about where to start – especially since resolutions tend to get a bad rap.

The reason? We usually don’t follow our hearts or our values.

We asked three relationship experts for their suggestions on setting meaningful resolutions for 2013. Below you’ll find specific steps for creating goals that truly help you cultivate your connection and boost your relationship.

Focusing on Your Identity as a Couple

Jeffrey Sumber, M.A., a therapist, author and professor, suggested couples ask themselves these three questions when crafting their resolutions:

  • “Who are we as a couple?”
  • “What do we want to create in the next year in our relationship?”
  • “What are we willing to contribute to the process moving forward?”

Growing Together

Clinical psychologist Meredith Hansen, Psy.D, suggested couples first discuss 2012, specifically focusing on the positive aspects of your relationship.

Next, consider how you’d like to “grow” your relationship in the New Year, she said. “Pinpoint aspects of the relationship that you would both like to improve and jointly identify steps you can take to initiate that change,” she said.

For instance, according to Hansen, if your goal is to be more respectful to each other, one partner might say, “I will work to improve the words and tone of voice I use during our interactions.” The other partner might say, “I will work on stopping what I’m doing in order to make eye contact with you when you’re talking to me.”

Record your resolutions, and re-examine them every month, Hansen said. “Go on a date at the end of the month, take a walk, or find a quiet moment on a weekend to review your goals.”

Setting SMART Resolutions

Clinical psychologist Silvina Irwin, Ph.D, stressed the importance of setting SMART goals.

  • Specific. Instead of saying that you’d like to spend more time together, designate one night a week as date night, she said. Then identify the details to make that happen, such as securing a babysitter, figuring out what you’ll do or buying theater tickets right now, Irwin said. Or instead of saying that you’ll save more money in 2013, set up automatic transfers for five percent of every paycheck to go into your savings account, she said.
  • Meaningful. To pick resolutions that truly matter to you, have each partner figure out what they’d like to work on, said Irwin, who also leads workshops for couples. Jot down your priorities using positive terms, she said. In other words, instead of writing, “stop yelling at each other,” write, “touch each other at least once a day.” Next, rank your list from 1 to 5 based on importance. Then compare and compile your lists, she said. Finally, pick the top three goals you’d like to address in 2013, she said.
  • Attainable. Make your goals as easy as possible to accomplish. That includes being explicit about how you’re going to attain your resolutions, Irwin said.
  • Relevant. Review your list, and discuss why you’re choosing these goals, Irwin said. The best goals are connected to your values.
  • Time-sensitive. “Open-ended goals quickly get back-burnered and overshadowed by the immediacy of here and now needs,” Irwin said. She suggested setting specific time frames. For instance, if you’d like to spend more time together, mark down date nights or weekend getaways on the calendar, right now, she said. “Otherwise other events and commitments will fill up that precious time, and before you know it, your potential getaway weekends have all been gobbled up.”

When mapping out your goals as a couple, avoid complaining, blaming or criticizing each other, Hansen said. “Instead, take a proactive approach and focus on what will make your relationship stronger, happier, healthier, and more satisfying in 2013.”

 

Couple making resolutions photo available from Shutterstock

Probing Early Cognitive Problems On the Road to Alzheimer’s

Psych Central News
Probing Early Cognitive Problems On the Road to Alzheimer’s

Probing Early Cognitive Problems On the Road to Alzheimer's  A new study suggests that people who eventually develop Alzheimer’s disease may have problems early on in processing some information.

While clinicians have observed other types of cognitive problems in patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) — including some who were perplexed by even the most simple task — no one had studied in it a systematic way, according to Terry Goldberg, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine.

In setting out to test the semantic processing system, Goldberg said he and his colleagues needed a task that did not involve a verbal response. That would only confuse things and make it harder to interpret the results, he noted. They decided to use size to test a person’s ability to use semantic information to make judgments between two competing sets of facts.

“If you ask someone what is bigger, a key or an ant, they would be slower in their response than if you asked them what is bigger, a key or a house,” said Goldberg, explaining that the greater the difference in size between two objects, the faster a person can recognize the difference and react to the question.

Investigators recruited 25 patients with MCI, 27 patients with Alzheimer’s, and 70 cognitively fit people for testing. They said they found large differences between the healthy people and the MCI and Alzheimer’s patients.

“This finding suggested that semantic processing was corrupted,” said Goldberg. “MCI and AD (Alzheimer’s disease) patients are really affected when they are asked to respond to a task with small size differences.”

The researchers then tweaked the task by showing pictures of a small ant and a big house or a big ant and a small house. This time, the MCI and AD patients did not have a problem with the first part of the test — they were able to choose the house over the ant when asked what was bigger.

But if the images were incongruent — the big ant seemed just as big as the small house — they were confused and they answered incorrectly or took longer to arrive at a response.

Patients with MCI were functioning somewhere between the healthy people and those with AD, the researcher noted. “When the decision was harder, their reaction time was slower,” he said.

The research team then wondered if a damaged semantic system would have an effect on everyday functions.

To answer this question, they turned to the UCSD Skills Performance Assessment scale, a tool that they have been using in MCI and AD patients that is used to identify functional deficits in patients with schizophrenia. The test taps a person’s ability to write a complex check or organize a trip to the zoo on a cold day.

This is actually a good test to figure out whether someone has problems with semantic knowledge, according to the researchers, who said semantic processing has its seat in the left temporal lobe.

“The semantic system is organized in networks that reflect different types of relatedness or association,” the investigators wrote in their study, which was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

“Semantic items and knowledge have been acquired remotely, often over many repetitions, and do not reflect recent learning.”

Goldberg said the study’s finding is important because it may be possible to strengthen these semantic processing connections through training.

“It tells us that something is slowing down the patient and it is not episodic memory but semantic memory,” he said, noting the researchers will continue to study these patients over time to see if these semantic problems get worse as the disease advances.

Source: North Shore-Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Health System

Depressed elderly woman photo by shutterstock.

5 Tips to Blow Up Your Old Expectations & Move Forward

World of Psychology
5 Tips to Blow Up Your Old Expectations & Move Forward

5 Tips to Blow Up Your Old Expectations & Move ForwardA client shared his frustration over not achieving more in his life, all those things he thought he would have done by now. I suggested that his struggle with low self-esteem would be helped if he stopped comparing himself to others.

This man, like many I know, deals heroically every day with the special needs challenges in his family. He and his wife step up in a non-traditional, focused, determined manner with love and spirit that is hard for outsiders to imagine. He is the frog in the pot, so it is nearly impossible for him to see how exceptional he is.

His reaction to me was: “Are you asking me to lower my expectations?”

No, I said, I’m asking you to blow them up, destroy them, obliterate them to dust. I hate that term: ‘lower expectations’, (can you tell?) as if by thinking differently we are less ourselves instead of more.

Here are some tips:

1. Start with a clean slate. Be honest with yourself. Are the expectations you are holding onto really your own? Or are they some one else’s? If they are someone else’s ditch them.

2. Brain storm. Write a stream of consciousness, without censor, without judgement. You can cull out the absurd (I expect to be America’s Next Top Model!) later.

3. Embrace where you are in life, because where ever you are, even if it’s really hard, it is Good.

4. Create goals, expectations, standards, whatever you want to call them, that work with you instead of against you. I may not ever be America’s Next Top Model, but I maybe I could walk more.

5. Keep the expectations fluid. Your needs in life will change for good and all. Keep light on your feet.

At the end of Working Girl, (an ’80′s iconic movie that you have got to see just for the hair!), a titan of industry tells a story to his board of directors that goes something like this:

One day in the Lincoln Tunnel, traffic came to a stop. A huge 18-wheel truck exceeded the clearance of the tunnel and got stuck. It couldn’t move forward or backward. The emergency crew were at a loss, scratching their heads as tempers began to fray all around them. Finally a little boy from a car waiting patiently behind the rig piped up: “Why don’t you just let air out of the tires?” Which, of course, they promptly did, lowering the truck which allowed it to move forward.

Life generally requires at least a few of those deflating-the-tires moments. My life is actually full of them and they haven’t been easy to deal with here’s why.

Even though I know I have to deflate my tires I resist it. My heart tells me I am not living up to potential yet again! So many times I asked myself if it was time to lower my expectations. In a small but very significant way it was having a chronic illness that first taught me that the old expectations of myself were keeping me frustrated and depressed. As long as I held on to the notion that I had to have the same production levels as I did when I was healthy I was letting myself and in my eyes, everyone around me, down. It finally occurred to me that since my illness was not going away I had to face some choices.

Either I keep banging my head against the Old Expectations Wall or I blow the damn thing up and build a brand new wall, or a dig a tunnel under it or an airplane to fly over it!

Picture this: Raiders of the Lost Ark. Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones (“it’s not the years, it’s the mileage”) who has battled and out-raced countless henchmen bent on his destruction. He lands in a market square and out of nowhere comes a seven foot tall giant brandishing the mother of all swords! Indy sighs, takes out his gun and shoots him.

Wow! Legend has it that Harrison Ford improvised this scene because he really was sick and too tired to do the choreographed sword fight. His flash of creativity became one of the most popular and iconic scenes in filmdom.

During my twenties when I was first confronted by a sickness that wasn’t going away I had a therapist who helped me break through my old expectations. It took over six years for me to get my B.A but I managed it. Then when I was thirty, I bit the bullet and went to graduate school thinking I would be the old lady in the class. Guess what? There were many like me, some a even older, who had postponed their post-grad education for whatever reasons.

Later, I struggled with the reality accepting a life without kids. I married late and I was sick a lot, but by some miracle they arrived. It wasn’t easy, but now I have kids the same age as my great nieces and nephews. It’s a hoot!

My career expectation was to climb the corporate ladder to a satisfying administrative position. After hitting the glass ceiling I quit and struck out on my own. That was over fifteen years ago. The road to fulfilling my dream of a private practice for the 21st century has been rocky but every time I hit a rut, I remember I can change course and still move forward.

Hanging on to expectations that work against us is like trying to pull our fingers out of a Chinese finger trap. The more you yank and pull the tighter the damn thing traps your fingers. The trick is to keep calm, relax and let your clever brain find another way. Then your fingers slip out easily!

Mental Health Care for Older Americans Not Up to Snuff

Psych Central News
Mental Health Care for Older Americans Not Up to Snuff

Mental Health Care for Older Americans Not Up to SnuffMany older Americans who suffer from mental health disorders are not receiving treatment that meets evidence-based standards, according to a national poll.

The national survey by the John A. Hartford Foundation, entitled Silver and Blue: The Unfinished Business of Mental Health Care for Older Adults, included a sample of 1,101 adults aged 65 years and older. An additional 307 interviews were conducted among the same age group who had been diagnosed with a mental health disorder or had experienced recent feelings of depression or anxiety since age 65.

Overall, 20 percent of the participants had at least one mental health diagnosis; 14 percent had been diagnosed with depression, and 11 percent had been diagnosed with anxiety.

A fear of stigma was low among survey respondents — only 13 percent reported that they would not tell anyone if they were feeling depressed or anxious.

Awareness of health risks associated with depression was also low. For example:

  • Only 34 percent of respondents knew that depression is associated with a doubling of heart disease risk;
  • Only 35 percent knew that depression is associated with an increased risk of dying from another disease;
  • Only 21 percent had heard that depression doubles the risk for dementia.

Among those receiving treatment for a mental health diagnosis, 46 percent reported that their doctor had not contacted them within a few weeks of initiating therapy.

Another 38 percent said that their doctor had not told them about potential side effects of antidepressant drugs, and 40 percent indicated that their doctor had not told them how long treatment would take to work.

One third said that their doctor did not discuss different treatment options, and 22 percent indicated that their doctor had not worked with them to decide on the best treatment option.

The majority (73 percent) reported that their doctor had not used a survey or questions to measure how they were doing.

A little over half of the same sample said that their doctor had not discussed non-drug strategies such as exercise or social activities that might help improve their mental health.

“Treating depression and other mental health conditions can be very successful, but it is not easy,” said Christopher Langston, Ph.D., Hartford Foundation program director.

“The first drug, the first treatment or a single treatment often doesn’t work, [and] it is a needless tragedy that so many older people are still receiving mental health care that does not measure up.”

Source:  John A. Hartford Foundation

10 Winter Depression Busters for Seasonal Affective Disorder

World of Psychology
10 Winter Depression Busters for Seasonal Affective Disorder

10 Winter Depression Busters for Seasonal Affective DisorderWe’ve officially entered the hard months, the “dark ages” as the midshipmen at the Naval Academy say: the time of the year when the sun disappears and the pale complexions of your friends remind you that you had better take your vitamins or else you’ll have a cold to go with your pasty look.

I dread winter each year because many of my depression busters require sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s. What does a girl who kayaks and bikes for sanity do in the winter? Lots of things.

Here are a few of them.

1. Give back.

Ghandi once wrote that “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Positive psychologists like University of Pennsylvania’s Martin Seligman and Dan Baker, Ph.D., director of the Life Enhancement Program at Canyon Ranch, believe that a sense of purpose — committing oneself to a noble mission — and acts of altruism are strong antidotes to depression.

The winter months are a good time to do this because the need is greater, the holiday spirit ideally lasts until February, and you don’t have the excuse of attending family picnics, unless you live in California or Florida.

2. Join the gym.

Don’t let the cold weather be an excuse not to sweat. We have centers today called “gyms” where people exercise inside! Granted, it’s not the same — watching the news or listening to the soundtrack from “Rocky” as you run in place as opposed to jogging along wooded paths with a view of the bay. But you accomplish the goal: a heart rate over 140 beats a minute.

The gym is also a kind of support group for me. These women, I’m guessing, are going after the endorphin buzz just like me because alcohol and recreational drugs don’t do the trick anymore. And, like moi, I suspect that they also have great difficulty meditating. Every time they close their eyes, they have visions of screaming kids, Chuck E. Cheese hell, and the crisis of no thank-you gifts for teachers.

3. Use a light lamp.

Bright-light therapy — involving sitting in front of a fluorescent light box that delivers an intensity of 10,000 lux — can be as effect as antidepressant medication for mild and moderate depression and can yield substantial relief for Seasonal Affective Disorder.

I usually turn on my mammoth HappyLite in November, just after my least favorite day of the year: when Daylight Saving Time ends and we “fall back” an hour, which means that I have about an hour of sunlight to enjoy after I pick up the kids from school.

4. Wear bright colors.

I have no research supporting this theory, but I’m quite convinced there is a link between feeling optimistic and sporting bright colors. It’s in line with “faking it ’til you make it,” desperate attempts to trick your brain into thinking that it’s sunny and beautiful outside–time to celebrate Spring!–even though it’s a blizzard with sleet causing some major traffic jams.

Personally, I tend to wear black everyday in the winter. It’s supposed to make you look thinner. But the result is that I appear as if and feel like I’m going to a funeral every afternoon between the months of November and March. This isn’t good. Not for a person hardwired to stress and worry and get depressed when it’s cold. So I make a conscious effort to wear bright green, purple, blue, and pink, and sometimes — if I’m in a rush — all of them together!

5. Force yourself outside.

I realize that the last thing you want to do when it’s 20 degrees outside and the roads are slushy is to head outside for a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood. It’s much more fun to cuddle up with a good novel or make chocolate chip cookies and enjoy them with a hot cup of Jo.

On many winter days — especially in late January and early February when my brain is done with the darkness–I have to literally force myself outside, however brief. Because even on cloudy and overcast days, your mood can benefit from exposure to sunlight. Midday light, especially, provides Vitamin D to help boost your limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. And there is something so healing about connecting with nature, even if it’s covered in snow.

6. Hang out with friends.

This seems like an obvious depression buster. Of course you get together with your buddies when your mood starts to go south. But that’s exactly when many of us tend to isolate. I believe that it takes a village to keep a person sane and happy. That’s why we need so many support groups today. People need to be validated and encouraged and inspired by persons on the same journey.

And with all the technology today, folks don’t even have to throw on their slippers to get to a support group. Online communities provide a village of friendship right at your computer. Every day I read comments like this one from Beyond Blue member Margaret: “Membership in this club to which we all unwillingly belong isn’t something I would wish on anyone; nonetheless, reading how others have survived specific circumstances has given me hope where I’d lost sight of it and inspired me to keep on keepin’ on even when my feet feel as if they’re encased in buckets of cement and will pull me under the stagnant water in the bottom of the pit.”

7. Head south.

Granted, this solution isn’t free, especially if you live in Maine. But you need not travel like the Kennedys to transplant your body and mind to a sunny spot for a few days. I try to schedule our yearly vacation the last week of January or the first week of February so that it breaks up the winter and so that I have something to look forward to in those depressing weeks following the holidays.

8. Challenge yourself: Take up a project.

There’s no time like winter to start a home project, like de-cluttering the house or purging all the old clothes in your kids’ closets. When a friend of mine was going through a tough time, she painted her entire house–every room downstairs with two different colors. And it looked professional! Not only did it help distract her from her problems, but it provided her with a sense of accomplishment that she desperately needed those months, something to feel good about as she saw other things crumble around her. Projects like organizing bookshelves, shredding old tax returns, and cleaning out the garage are perfect activities for the dreary months of the year. And hey, most of them are free!

My mood can often be lifted by meeting a new challenge — an activity that is formidable enough to keep my attention, but easy enough to do when my brain is muddied. Learning how to record and edit video blogs, for this girl who hates technology, turned out to be great fun. Friends of mine get the same boost by joining Jenny Craig and losing the 25 pounds of baby fat, or exploring a new hobby — like scrapbooking. I try to stretch myself in a small way every winter — whether it be taking a writing class, researching the genetics of mood disorders, or something similar. It keeps my brain from freezing, like the rest of my body.

9. Watch the sugar.

I think our body gets the cue just before Thanksgiving that it will be hibernating for a few months, so it needs to ingest everything edible in sight. And I’m convinced the snow somehow communicates to the human brain the need to consume every kind of chocolate available in the house. We are mammals, yes, so do we think we need an extra layer of fat in the winter to keep us warm? I’m starting to think so.

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. According to Kathleen DesMaisons, author of “Potatoes Not Prozac”: Your relationship to sweet things is operating on a cellular level. It is more powerful than you have realized… What you eat can have a huge effect on how you feel.”

10. Stock up on Omega-3′s.

During the winter I’m religious about stocking in my medicine cabinet a Noah’s Ark supply of Omega-3 capsules because leading physicians at Harvard Medical School confirmed the positive effects of this natural, anti-inflammatory molecule on emotional health. I treat my brain like royalty — hoping that it will be kind to me in return — so I fork over about $30 a month for the Mac Daddy of the Omega-3s, capsules that contain 70 percent EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid). One 500mg softgel capsule meets the doctor-formulated 7:1 EPA to DHA ratio, needed to elevate and stabilize mood.