If you reside on planet Earth, you are aware of the storms and wild weather that have affected the U.S. and beyond. California has made the news, not for its famous 5-year drought, but for the record rain and mountain snowfall the entire state has experienced all winter.
The rain and foul weather is a blessing…and a curse. A blessing because the state desperately needs the rain and snow-pack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
A curse because… 1. It’s too much water too fast (see link on Oroville Dam); 2. Gloom, rain, clouds and lack of sunlight affect many people and may lead to a form of depression in a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD for short.
The Mayo Clinic website suggests “The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression. A drop or change in both serotonin and melatonin (neurotransmitters) levels can bring on seasonal depression.”
Fellow blogger, Sally Cronin, writes extensively about Seasonal Affective Disorder in her blog, Smorgasbord: Variety is the Spice of Life.
This insidious condition does not affect everyone. You would think that by my living in “sunny” California, SAD would not be an issue. I’m here to tell you, um, yes, it’s an issue.
Since 2011, our winters have been mild. We’ve seen much more sun January through March—our typical rainy season. Sure, we had a decent amount of rain in November and December in those years, enough to keep the Sierra ski resorts open for business. In 2011, we even had record snowfall that kept snow in the Sierras well into June. After that? Nada! No wonder I have not experienced the “winter blues” in a while!
What is SAD? Here are some symptoms:
- Lack of energy—feeling overwhelmed and helpless. These are confusing and horrible feelings for a rather positive person like myself.
- Feeling guilty or worried—heightened anxiety. I found myself frowning and unconsciously grinding my teeth. Why??
- Weakened immune system. I got two severe colds in December and January. I am rarely sick, so getting two colds within a two-month time-frame now makes sense.
- Experiencing sleep disturbances, lack of sleep or the ability to socialize. This did not affect me that much, thank goodness, or you might be visiting me in the hospital!
- Irritability—Having a lower threshold of crankiness and impatience. Oooh, no wonder I’ve snapped at my poor hubby lately.
- Overeating and weight gain (or craving carbs and sugar more than usual). After a year of successfully using Weight Watchers to lose 30 pounds, I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t gain any weight at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but started craving carbs and sugar in mid-January and gained two pounds. What was different? It also didn’t help that we celebrated a few family birthdays in January.
“Many (may also) attribute these symptoms to the lack of vitamin D in the winter. To help battle these symptoms, it is advised to get as much natural sunlight as possible; which may mean heading outdoors in and around the lunch hour, or during a bright winter day. Even on the coldest of days, if the sun is out, bundling up, and heading outside for a least an hour, can improve SAD symptoms significantly.” 10 Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
It would be unwise of me to live in the far northern hemisphere without access to a sunlamp.
All of this explains my feelings of being disorganized, always overwhelmed, and unable to multi-task (my super-power). It also explains lately why I am slow to read blogs, comment and share on social media. The low energy just makes it difficult to engage. So, I apologize now for my sluggishness, and soon I will be back to my bubbly self and to your blogs!
I now have a new appreciation for the depression and anxiety my daughter went through in the last few years. She told me, “people would ask, what do you have to be depressed about? That made me even more depressed and anxious.” For her, graduating from college and landing her first job with the State of California pulled her out of her anxiety.
How did I beat SAD, or the “Winter Blues?”
1. First, simply recognizing the symptoms. I had all but forgotten them because of the (abnormal) winter sunlight. Even reading about the symptoms, it still did not occur to me that I was currently suffering.
2. Talking it over with family members went a long way toward acknowledging my problem. For many, depression is difficult to discuss and carries a social stigma.
3. Getting on with my life and not letting anxiety and blue moods get the best of me. Now I have a better understanding of my youngest daughter’s anxiety in the last few years and what she went through. It is easier than you might think to get caught up in these moods, leading to Number 4.
4. Not giving up or giving in to defeat, or making rash decisions about life events and hobbies that can’t be undone. It was literally on the precipice of giving up writing and blogging altogether, thinking “I have nothing left to share.”
5. Recognizing that the blues and doldrums will affect me occasionally and strive to pay better attention to those cues.
6. Opening the blinds and letting more light into the rooms. Yes, that means I will see dust and know that “spring cleaning” is imminent. But that’s OK.
7. Just getting outside and letting a little sunshine wash over me. March is here and with it, stronger, longer sunny days. The sun arcs a little higher in the sky each day.
8. Pulling favorite spring clothing items out of my closet and gazing upon their bright colors (“oh, hello, pretty pink shirt—I can’t wait to wear you”).
9. Investing time in small indulgences like buying a new, brighter lip gloss or new make-up always makes me feel better. And it is definitely time for a pedicure!
10. Keeping within the structure of my fitness and weight loss routine. Exercising regularly and eating healthy foods are critical to normal functions.
“Since I started writing this post, we have had four days of wonderful sunshine! I can already feel the difference!”
What should I do for future gray days?
- Mark a big SAD on my calendar in mid-November as a reminder. The frenetic pace of preparing for the holidays may mask the symptoms. It did in my case, leaving me hollow and empty right after New Year’s.
- Plan a sunny winter trip. Next January, I hope to spend three weeks in San Diego and Baja, Mexico. Those three weeks I spent last January 2016 in the warm sun, were just enough to stave off that year’s SAD symptoms. I better start saving for an annual January trip! I’m thinking Baja and Hawaii in alternating years!
I do not want to make light of this potentially serious situation. Depression in any form is dangerous and, if undiagnosed, can eventually lead to health problems, feelings of suicide and death. If you are experiencing the “winter blues” and the feelings are not diminishing with the coming spring and sunlight, I urge you to see your doctor right away.
I am also linking this post to Colleen Chesebro’s blog, A Mindful Journey
Have you experienced the “winter blues?” Please feel free to share in the comments what helped you lift your mood.