The SAD Truth: Fall and Winter Can Make Us Sick

Here’s a quick quiz.  What is a snowbird?

a) a relative of the blue robin that only breeds in cold weather

b) a female hockey player

c) a fan of Edward Snowden

d)  someone from a cold or overcast climate who travels (or rather, flees) to a warm climate when winter starts to hack its ugly phlegm

Yep, if you guessed d), then you’re not so affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) to no longer be thinking straight.  The fact is, a lot of people start to feel depressed this time of year, and they can’t explain why.  They blame it on summer vacation being long gone; on dreading the holidays for whatever reason (having to see relatives they don’t like, or being reminded of a deceased, beloved family member) or on whatever is most obviously dysfunctional in their lives (crummy job, marital problems, weight issues, etc.).  All those excuses… when really it’s about the weather.  Our environment.  Yes, our surroundings have a huge impact on us, no matter how used to them we are.  If your scenery looks as bleak and lifeless as death on a popsicle, then you’re just not going to feel as good as you normally would.

SAD is the butt of many jokes, and it is also underdiagnosed — particularly (surprise!) in warmer climates.  Why?  Because even people in places like California and The South can be stricken at this time of year by the short days and relative lack of light.  In other words, it doesn’t have to be 30 degrees out for you to have difficulty waking up in the morning, difficulty completing tasks, a sense of hopelessness, and lack of energy.  And if you didn’t blow all your vacation time and money this summer, it can be very, very tempting to make like a snowbird and FLY as soon as possible to the nearest palm-tree studded destination closest to the equator.  Should you feel bad or guilty over this? No way.  Thousands of people are booking trips right now to the Caribbean, South America, South and Southeast Asia, and even Africa — and when it comes right down to it, they’ll admit: the weather made me do it.

So what if you can’t afford to get away as November and December loom depressingly near?  Well, there are some practical changes you can make to your life to start feeling better.

Change rooms in your home.  Step back for a moment and ask yourself if you’re relaxing or working in the darkest room in your house or apartment. Can you move to a place that has more southern exposure?  I know someone who moves her desk from her bedroom to her dining room every fall to “follow the light.”  It’s a lot easier to move some furniture around to improve your well-being than to see a shrink.

Divide your activities into indoor and outdoor.  If you live somewhere that averages about three hours of sunlight this time of year, be prepared to seize those hours to do what you want to do outside.  Pay your bills when it’s gray as sludge out — and be ready to pull your yoga mat onto the back deck when you see that glimmer of hope in the sky.

Go out at night.  It will hardly matter if it looks depressing outside or not.  The bright lights of your city (or even your small neighborhood) can be incredibly uplifting.

Use a light-box.  Light therapy involves exposing yourself to a special incandescent lamp light-box which simulates the sun.  They take up much less room than they used to and average about $50-$75.

I live in California where these light-boxes can be very difficult to find in stores.  Thank goodness for Amazon — now I have the same buyer’s opportunity as all of you out there from Minnesota, Ontario, and the UK.

Stay as warm as possible since being cold or chilled will aggravate your intolerance for bad weather.  Then get back to work — there’s still time to save up enough to go to Bermuda in February.

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Crummy weather isn’t going to inspire you to hang presents from trees.  Know when SAD is getting you down — and learn what to do about it. 

One thought on “The SAD Truth: Fall and Winter Can Make Us Sick

  1. I find winter affects me a lot more nowadays than it used to… I think it was a couple interminable Belgian winters that did it to me! I’ve been thinking about getting one of those light boxes. And lots and lots of upbeat music!

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