The day on which I’m writing this column has been outstanding – sunny, mild and not too breezy. It’s been absolutely spring-like. At long last.
If you feel this winter has been particularly miserable, you’re not the only one. Many folks have told me exactly the same thing.
Although we’ve been spared hard freezes, snow, sleet and other unpleasant weather, it hasn’t been what we Texans like to refer to as a “mild winter”.
The worst part, for me, has been the unusually high number of overcast days. We have been waking up to gloomy skies for far too long. That makes me want to crawl into a den and hibernate until spring.
But did you know there’s a term for people who suffer from gloomy weather? It’s called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
No, I’m not making this up. I checked it out. It’s defined as a “type of depression that occurs during the same season each year.”
According to the internet, anyone can have SAD but it’s more common in women, folks who live far from the equator, people aged 15 to 55 and people who have a close relative who suffers from it. It’s sometimes referred to as “winter depression” or “seasonal depression”.
I think a lot of us suffer from it but just don’t know what to call it. If you’ve experienced it more than two years in a row, you probably have it.
The experts aren’t sure exactly what causes SAD but think it may be a lack of sunlight. This can upset your “biological clock”, which controls your sleep-wake patterns. It also wreaks havoc with your serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood.
The symptoms are varied and not everyone has them all. You may feel sad, grumpy, moody or anxious, lose interest in normal activities, eat more, crave carbohydrates, gain weight, sleep more but feel tired and have trouble concentrating.
Sounds like my normal winter.
If you consult your doctor to determine if you have SAD, you’ll be asked about the symptoms above. Your doctor may order tests to rule out other possible causes, such as low thyroid secretion, known as hypothyroidism.
So what’s the treatment if you’re diagnosed with SAD? This is where it gets really interesting. According to sources on the net, the most effective treatment is light therapy, with or without antidepressants and/or psychotherapy.
Various forms of light therapy involve the use of different types of light box, light visor or lamp, all of which are designed to send extra light to the eyes while filtering out harmful ultraviolet light.
Basically, you sit before a light gadget for 15 to 90 minutes a day. You can spend that time reading, doing paperwork or making phone calls. You do not have to stare directly into the light itself. “Light therapy” is considered safe and fairly well tolerated, although some people experience “eye strain, headaches, irritability, fatigue and insomnia”.
After considering all this info (and the probable cost of the doctor visits, tests, possible psychotherapy and that light box), I can’t help wondering if there might be a simpler, cheaper solution to SAD.
Why not plan a few one-week trips to somewhere really warm in the winter – Miami, Key West, the Bahamas, et cetera? Or maybe just take a relaxing Caribbean cruise?
That might level out your serotonin just as effectively and could be a lot more fun. Not to mention less expensive.
Personally, I’m opting for the warm-weather travel fix. Anchors away!