I’ve long been aware that the January blues that I wrote about last week are symptoms of SAD, seasonal affective disorder. SAD, sometimes known as winter depression, is a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms during the winter months. Brought on by lack of natural light, SAD is especially prevalent amongst those of us who live at northern latitudes. Like many SAD sufferers, I notice the symptoms most during long stretches of cloudy weather such as we have been experiencing lately.
According to the Mayo Clinic website which I trust for all things medical, symptoms may include:
- Loss of energy
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating and processing information
Compared to many, I suffer from a relatively mild case of SAD but I can definitely identify with many of the above. At times like this, I feel grumpy and pessimistic, sometimes even anxious. One of the advantages of retirement is the fact that I don’t have to rise before the sun but, even so, getting up in the morning is a chore; even more so than the rest of the year! When I feel this way I lack the energy or the desire to accomplish very much and I’m sure I’m not a lot of fun to live with! I definitely crave high carb foods, especially chocolate and yes, I tend to gain a few pounds over the winter months.
Though it’s hard to convince yourself to exercise when you’re feeling this way, it does help alleviate the stress and anxiety of SAD and hopefully keeps those pounds from piling on. Knowing this keeps me lifting weights three times a week even when it seems to be more effort than it’s worth. Exercising outdoors is especially helpful. Even on cloudy days, exposure to some natural light is better than hiding away indoors. That’s why cross country skiing has been so beneficial for me.
If my symptoms were more extreme or if they lasted for longer periods of time, I would definitely consider investing in the specialized lights that mimic outdoor light and provide relief for many sufferers. At this point, I haven’t found that necessary. Simply knowing what it is that ails me and realizing that it’s temporary helps get me through the rough spots. I know that one of these days, the sun will break through and as I soak up its rays, I will literally feel myself recharge. It is a most amazing feeling!