There is something about that time of year that makes him feel really depressing. Overcast sky, choppy wind, fallen foliage, dusk. The darkness is so close, the night comes before you get ready. It’s the horror, there has to be a song or a poem, or folk magic that we can use to calm that fear.”(Don DeLillo, “The Balance”)
With the advent of autumn and the approach of winter, many people suffer from this overwhelming feeling of sadness, their productivity declines, they experience mood swings, they may suffer from sleep problems or appetite disorders, and some face risks that may reach suicidal thoughts.
This black hole, which some call “winter grief”, is actually a type of psychological disorder known as “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD). This disorder includes a group of symptoms whose severity and effects may vary from one person to another, but are mostly related to mood, psychological state, and ability to be productive. So while the ants burrow into their burrows, and the bears succumb to their long hibernation, some humans find themselves needing to hide within the walls of their homes with their own ghosts. But we don’t have that luxury that bears do, there are daily chores that require us to open our eyes every day and get out of bed and face the world. How can we do this with such heavy grief?
The Yellow Emperor, one of the earliest classics on internal medicine believed to have been written about 2,300 years ago, describes how the seasons affect all living things, and suggests that during the winter one should sleep early and wake up at sunrise, and maintain desires and vigor. Mentally calm. (1)
Later, more than 2,000 years later, in an essay titled “Memoirs of Madness” published in 1794 by Philip Pinnell, nicknamed the father of modern psychiatry, Pinnell observed mental decline in some of his psychiatric patients when the cold weather began in December and January . The term seasonal affective disorder (SAD) was coined relatively recently, in the mid-1980s, by Southern African psychologist Norman E. Rosenthal is the first to attempt to accurately describe this disorder. https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-seasonal-affective-disorder-impacts-artists-productivity Rosenthal also studied the link between seasonal affective disorder and creativity, and gave examples of many artists and poets who recognized the effect of changing light on their moods, They include Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, and Vincent Van Gogh.
“All the city’s grief came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter.”(Ernest Hemingway)
What is seasonal affective disorder?
Well, let’s go into the details a little bit. These mood changes begin with the changes of the seasons, appear at the end of autumn and early winter, and fade by spring and summer, the so-called winter type of seasonal affective disorder. Alternatively, you may experience depression during the spring and summer, which is called summer seasonal affective disorder, but it is less common. (2)
Anyone can have SAD, but it’s more common in people who’ve been diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder, especially bipolar II disorder, which is associated with recurrent episodes of depression and hypomania (those less severe than full-blown manic episodes in bipolar disorder). of the first type). People with a genetic history of other mental illnesses, such as depression or schizophrenia, are also more likely to develop seasonal affective disorder. (3)
Seasonal affective disorder symptoms and severity can vary, and may include feeling depressed most hours of the day to such an extent that it may interfere with daily activities. You may also notice changes and disturbances in the sleep pattern, whether feeling lethargic and drowsy, or insomnia and the inability to sleep regularly.
Sometimes appetite disorders that directly affect weight, either by increasing or decreasing, also appear. In some serious cases, the matter may escalate to the presence of thoughts related to the desire for death or suicide.
All of these symptoms may negatively affect your life, increase your isolation from others, and affect your performance at work or study. Sometimes some resort to excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs, which worsens the condition. (4)
Well.. what are the causes of seasonal disorder?
Until now, scientists do not fully understand the causes of seasonal affective disorder, but there are a number of various theories through which scientists have tried to explain this phenomenon.
Some research suggests that sunlight plays a direct role in maintaining levels of the hormone serotonin, which is responsible for regulating our mood. In people with this disorder, this regulation doesn’t work properly, causing serotonin levels to drop as the light decreases in winter, which eventually leads to increased depression and anxiety. Indirectly, it is also believed that “vitamin D” enhances the production of serotonin, and as a result of reduced daylight in winter, the body produces less amounts of “vitamin D”, which exacerbates the problem. (5)
Other findings suggest that people with this disorder produce more melatonin, a hormone essential for maintaining a normal sleep-wake cycle, as excessive melatonin production can increase sleepiness and lethargy. Altogether, the hormones serotonin and melatonin help maintain the body’s circadian rhythm associated with the day-night cycle, and in the case of seasonal affective disorder, changes in serotonin and melatonin levels disrupt normal circadian rhythms, leading to changes in sleep pattern, mood and behavior. (6)
However, recent ideas about how birds and small mammals respond to changes in day length lead us to alternative explanations, which are paradoxically also linked to serotonin and melatonin levels. According to Daniel Kripke, MD, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, when melatonin hits an area of the brain called the hypothalamus, it disrupts the active thyroid hormone that regulates all kinds of behaviors and bodily processes.
According to studies in mammals, it appears that keeping melatonin levels high after the time the animal is awake significantly reduces the production of active thyroid hormone, which negatively affects the level of serotonin, which regulates mood. Several studies have shown that serotonin levels in the brain in humans are lowest in the winter and highest in the summer. (7)
Genetics also play a role. You are more likely to develop symptoms if one of your parents or close family members suffers from seasonal mood swings, and you are more likely to develop seasonal affective disorder if you live far from the equator, whether in the far north or south. This may be caused by less sunlight during the winter, and longer hours during the summer months.
Light in the Winter Tunnel
Fortunately, there is some good news at the end. If you are suffering from a difficult winter due to seasonal affective disorder, you can plan proactively to cope with it by adhering to some tips. First, make sure you get as much daylight as possible, you can sit in a sunny window, or go out for a walk during the winter day.
Never give in to confinement between the walls of your home, make sure to spend time with your friends, family and loved ones. You can share your experiences with people you trust so they can better understand your situation. Finally, be sure to exercise outdoors, whether by joining a gym, walking or jogging. (8)
These tips may relieve minor cases, but in the event of an exacerbation, you may have to resort to a doctor who will suggest medication or behavioral treatment programs for you so that you do not spend the winter succumbing to grief. But we have to remind you not to take any medicine without consulting your doctor.
- Vitamin D
A study published in “Bone Reports” indicated that Middle Eastern countries had the highest rates of vitamin D deficiency, especially in females, as a result of factors such as full body coverage, and a lifestyle that does not allow exposure to sunlight for long periods, which increases in winter, of course. Therefore, doctors recommend taking vitamin D supplements. Consult your doctor in the appropriate dosage for you.
- Light therapy
A person sits in front of a very bright light box (10,000 lux) daily for a period of 30 to 45 minutes, in the first hour after waking up, with the eyes open without looking directly at the light.
Therapeutic light boxes mimic daylight, and researchers believe that this type of light causes a chemical change in the brain that elevates mood and treats other symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. It’s important to make sure you’re using a medical-recommended light box so that it doesn’t harm your eyes, and ask your eye doctor’s advice on choosing the right light box if you have eye problems such as glaucoma, cataracts or eye damage caused by diabetes. (9)
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
Usually done in group sessions spanning about 6 weeks, this type of psychotherapy focuses on replacing negative thoughts about the winter season with more positive ones.
It is worth mentioning here that a long-term study published by Kelly Rohan, a psychologist at the University of Vermont, which followed patients with seasonal affective disorder for two years, and found that the positive effects of behavioral therapy lasted longer over time than light therapy.
- Drug therapy
Because SAD, like other types of depression, is associated with disturbances in serotonin activity, antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are sometimes used to treat SAD in severe cases. But remember that you cannot use these medications without consulting your doctor. (10)
Having all of these treatment options gives you a chance to take the necessary steps to protect yourself, and save your next winter from grief and mist.
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