My last post assumed the title, ‘Happy-Happy’. This piece takes a different approach: “SAD”. However, the creative purpose is not to shed light on the general mood itself, rather discuss the acronym, S.A.D., medically and professionally known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Full disclaimer, I have no medical-facing fiber in my body. Ask my nurse roommate, I cannot diagnosis a simple headache or even pronounce the most-common of medications. I cringe at the sight of blood and become queasy at the basic thought of a doctor’s office. Not that you need further assurance, but I’ll even admit I scored a low 14 in the Science portion of the ACT. Needless to say, even with gallant effort, I cannot offer health-related advice or provide insight to any sort of human body chemistry that this S.A.D. condition may result from.
So, after belittling my medical-facing knowledge, why am I writing on this topic at all? Simply put, I’m a Wisconsinite who has endured countless long winters and escaped frost bite one too many times, but more importantly, I’ve noticed a subtle shift in society’s social climate in conjunction with the arrival of winter. This season specifically, a surprising number of friends, family, and colleagues have shyly, yet expressively, spoken about their seasonal depression. Feeling similarly, this sparked my interest, since so many of us are quick to identify that the winter months cause our personal behaviors and even lifestyles to change course. As easily as we identify this behavioral shift, we also tend to fiercely testify that this will surely be the last winter season we tolerate. However, here we are, another winter winding down, ever so slowly. As such, I wanted to undertake a cosmetic approach to discuss in basic terms, why seasonal depression is so prevalent across all demographics and explore if S.A.D. is as cold-hearted of a condition as the negative temperatures imply.
Do the general climate, staggering air temperature, wind pattern, sun strength (or lack thereof), actually produce a firsthand impact on our moods? If so, how severely? These climate variances certainly affect our physical world, our plans, our wardrobes, our daily commutes, etc.
But what about our emotional well-being?
There’s (s)no(w) question that life in the Midwest brings consistent weather-related challenges. Especially after surviving this year’s Polar Vortex, in which temps plummeted further below those in Antartica and the majority of us were strictly and hopelessly homebound. It’s relatively easy to feel isolated in this desolate season because let’s face it, when ice covers the roads and snow blankets camouflage our cars, it becomes difficult to persuade ourselves with enough reasons to venture outside unless absolutely required. Even further, when faced with driving to and from work in darkness, we lose the sense of normalcy simple daylight offers. The days seem long, yet ironically the daylight hours are the shortest they’ll ever be.
Hibernation season strikes and we begin to feel increasingly unmotivated as each day reveals yet another gray, ashy sky. The patterns of “winter blues” tend to hit full-swing after the holidays conclude, and we feel confined to the indoors for what feels like an unforeseeable end. It’s incredible how strongly our mindsets react to the ecosystem around us.
Perhaps, feeling disgruntled in the winter months is a direct result of the vast contrast that summer offers. The sun’s enduring warmth pouring into hot summer evenings, freshly-cut grass’s potent aroma, and the general opportunistic feel of summer air, all provide natural highs. Plus, swimsuits and shorts propose an excellent reason to be in physical tip-top shape. This heightened realm of physical health, and feeling confident in our own skin, can directly translate to improved emotional health.
Take winter on the other hand, where oversized sweaters, thick turtlenecks, and dressing from head to toe may have the opposite effect on our self-esteem. (Not saying winter wardrobes are horrible, a separate blog post would be required to explain why). However, in the longest season of the year, the skin we are able to expose is left to face harsh conditions, those of us with long hair suffer a winter hat’s oppressive static mess, and we receive personal, yet blatant, reminders of how pale we’ve become. Indirectly, these physical components can impact our emotional well-being by deteriorating our confidence. I’m a strong believer in “look-good, feel-good”. This said, it can be increasingly important to take extra care of yourself when confronted with below-freezing temperatures.
There’s also subtle, yet powerful, differences in every-day living between each season. In the winter, we tend to hurry from place to place and rarely stop for conversation or to observe nature around us. In the summer, we are far more likely to take a leisurely approach throughout our daily activities. We are simply surrounded by more people in the summer and subsequently feed off that additional human interaction in many positive ways.
I often wonder if those lucky people residing in desert-like or ocean-side climates, ever experience these feelings of weather-induced desperation. If you’re like me, itching to move and change environments, it can be difficult to make an actual physical adjustment that requires picking up your life and moving it elsewhere, when your loved ones are already nearby. While packing up all those around me and moving near the beach may not be presently feasible, I’ve reflected on a few simple solutions to combat the desperation in the meantime:
Keep your blinds open as frequently as your environment allows. Allowing simple, natural daylight to flood your home or office is critical when daylight only presents itself 8-10 hours a day in the deepest winter weeks.
Force yourself, no matter how heavily the temps require you to bundle up, to go outside. Even for 10-20 minutes at a time. Fresh air is an abundant (and more desirably, free) medication, severely overlooked.
While we may not have the luxury time allows for a vacation, traveling outside your normal residence to gain a little vitamin D, relaxation, and perspective of life beyond your neighborhood, is immensely beneficial.
Or splurge on fur vests and cute wool mittens. Big fan of retail therapy here.
When the grayness brings you down, take a few extra minutes to appreciate the heater in your car, the winter coat you’re able to wear, and the people who you enjoy spending a night in with, building a puzzle or cooking a new meal. As strongly as I believe in retail therapy, I believe life is all about perspective. If we change how we perceive this season, we may become open to the possibilities life still presents even when we have to endure runny noses and chapped lips.
Life’s too short to live the same day twice. It’s easy to allow seasonal depression, or any depression for that matter, to control our behaviors, monopolize our routines, and play merciless tricks on our minds. I won’t overlook how difficult it can be to overcome these emotional feelings. But for now, when the wind dries out your skin or the sidewalk salt ruins your leather boots, try to change your perspective: Step outside and embrace the fresh air, paint with bright colors, drink a pina colada, and spend time focusing on how a positive perspective can influence the course of your day.