I don’t know about you, and of course this will differ depending on what part of the planet you call home, but for me February is about the point in the year when the novelty of winter begins to wear off. We are all familiar with terms like Seasonal Depression and Cabin Fever, the latter which originated in the days when people lived much more in direct contact with the land and the seasons and were clearly at the mercy of mother natures “moods” and changes. As an avid fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the “Little House on the Prairie” series (the books!) I realized at a young age how fortunate we are in modern times to have certain luxuries that help us cope with freezing temperatures, snow and potential isolation. The fact that we have cars, or public transportation, indoor heat and plumbing and grocery stores where we can buy food from just about anywhere in the world without it having to be “in season” sometimes makes me wonder why we even have an actual diagnostic term for seasonal depression; SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder.
According to the Mayo Clinic:
*Symptoms of winter-onset seasonal affective disorder include:
- Depressed mood
- Loss of energy
- Social withdrawal
- Oversleeping (feeling like you want to hibernate)
- Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates such as pastas, rice, bread and cereal
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating and processing information
Hmmm, well that all sounds familiar.
The article also cites that a lack of exposure to sunlight may increase Melatonin, a hormone that is normally produced during sleep (nighttime hours) which may disrupt our mood and our sleep patterns.
I’m thinking, based on intuitive deduction, not scientific evidence, that Human beings have done a pretty good job of adapting to our environments for hundreds of thousands of years, so why would we failed to adapt to lack of sunlight? In other words, I’m not completely buying this theory. Then again as someone who has experienced cyclical depression for most of my life, I may not be the most unbiased or accurate judge.
I think part of our problem is we don’t get out enough. We rush to our cars and once we have reached our destination, we rush to get indoors. We act as if cold air is somehow terribly offensive and something to be avoided at all costs. Our traditional ‘modern’ lifestyles reinforce this behavior by having us work usually indoors during the few hours of actual daylight that we are able (in the northern parts) to experience. The typical 9 to 5 bankers hours pretty much covers that window of opportunity for exposure to sunlight.
One of the perks to being unemployed is that I can get out and about during those precious hours of sunlight. Being “low income”, unable to afford a car and sometimes even not having bus fare means that my primary mode of transportation is my own two feet. Additionally I do believe that people need a bit more sleep in the winter. maybe like many mammals we are meant to function in a semi-hibernation mode. Having a free schedule allows for naps, sleeping late and adjustments to normal sleep patterns.
So what about the rest of the world, the ones who are lucky enough to have jobs, cars and a consistent schedule?
As someone who has lived in both worlds I can offer some suggestions, which of course you can take or leave. Depending on your current level of S.A.D. you may want to suggest that I stick my suggestions in the one place where the sun will not shine, and that’s okay too, I get it, I really do.
So here goes,
1. Planes, trains and automobiles
We love them, then get us where we need to go and they do it with heat in the winter and cool air in the summer (assuming things are functioning properly) they play music along the way and depending on type and ‘extras’ they might offer even more tailored comforts than our own homes. We get very accustomed to our cars, maybe too much so. How about next time there’s a nice reasonably not-too-cold day you walk to do some errands instead of habitually heading for the driver’s seat? You might be surprised at how good you feel after a brisk walk. And you’ll save yourself some fuel.
If you work in doors, where do you go for lunch or breaks? Do you head for the employee break room (often known as the bleak room). If so, is it a tiny space lined with vending machines that dispense plastic wrapped mystery foods? Are the lights glaring fluorescent? Is there another option? How about taking a stroll outside, breathing in some fresh air and basking in real light. How about those vacation days? Are you saving them all for summer when you can really enjoy the time off? Could you spare one or two for your mental health, just to get some rest? Which leads into…
The majority of people I know, regardless of age, socioeconomic status or any other identifying factors seem to agree they just feel like they need more sleep in the winter. Depending on life circumstances this can be more of a challenge to some than others, I know. But look at your daily schedule. Are there times you might set aside to watch a tv show or do something else that may be entertaining, but non-essential? Do you feel guilty or “unproductive” if you allow yourself to nap? Guess what, your body heals itself while it sleeps, its too busy doing other stuff while its awake, so it needs this time to repair and rebuild tissues. Napping, then, is not unproductive at all, in fact it’s giving your body the time to do the work it needs to do to keep yourself healthy! How about them apples? And speaking of apples…
Your body needs food, in the winter it might need a little more to maintain warmth and to fend off all those nasty viruses that tend to accumulate in spots like workplaces and shared vehicles. Go ahead and eat! And try to eat healthy. Most people put on a few pounds in winter, there’s nothing wrong with that. And if you start walking more you’re going to burn lots of those calories anyway.
Finally, all the Motherly advice in the world is no substitute for seeking help if the problem becomes truly serious. Friends, support groups, and if necessary, professional intervention might be called for if you’re blues start taking on a darker shade. You’re not alone if the long tail end of winter gets you down and there is help available, so reach out and grab it and remember, spring is on it’s way.
*Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sad/MY00371
© 2010-2012 Nanakoosa’s Place, authored by Jennifer Hazard