No, not to worry—I’m not the least bit depressed. Today I’m going to talk about seasonal affective disorder, or SAD for short, which is not a “bipolar thing” but a common affliction among people living in the northern latitudes.
That’s not to say that folks living in the tropics don’t get it, but in places where it’s cloudy, dark, and grey during the winter, even people who don’t ordinarily suffer from depression or anxiety can be affected. The most common symptoms are excessive sleep, weight gain from indulging carbohydrate cravings, and low mood. We also tend to develop a cozy relationship with the sofa and watch a lot of TV. Dr. Awesomesauce has a nasty case of SAD and has to go to Hawaii every year to get a break from our long, dreary winters, but for us mere mortals, it’s important to get creative in dealing with it.
I have SAD pretty bad myself. I usually get through the holidays and my birthday all right but then it slams into me with hurricane force in mid-winter, rendering me dull, grumpy and depressed. I feel like a bear—all I want to do is hibernate until spring, and my disposition is unattractive at best. The only thing that helps me is a device called a dawn simulator, which is plugged into my bedside lamp. It turns itself on 15 minutes prior to the time I wake up and gradually grows brighter, just like the morning sun, so that by the time I have to be out of bed the room is illuminated as if it were mid-July.
It sounds silly, but it’s a hell of a lot better than getting up in the dark. There are also light therapy devices that provide full-spectrum lighting, which is believed to be effective in many cases of SAD. You sit under the device for 30-60 minutes or so first thing in the morning, which improves mood by tricking the brain into thinking it’s outside in the sun. A couple of friends of mine swear by their light boxes; they’re a bit out of my price range right now, but at some point I hope to get one. Note: if you purchase a light box, be sure to get one that provides full-spectrum bulbs and at least 10,000 lux (units of light); anything less will probably not be therapeutic.
Some people actually get SAD in the summer instead of the winter. They generally have to do everything back-asswards and avoid the heat and light the rest of us crave. I have a couple of relatives who loathe summer and adore the cold and damp; to say I don’t understand them would be the understatement of the week, but I respect their suffering and wish there were a cure for it.
Of course, lifestyle modifications such as proper diet and exercise are also helpful, although it’s tough to get excited about taking a walk when it’s 40 degrees and raining, and broccoli doesn’t hold much appeal unless it’s in a hearty cream soup. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone does it. I just know that it’s a good thing…..although personally I’d prefer to stow away in Dr. A’s suitcase and spend the last two weeks of February on the sands of Waikiki!