I have been talking with people and many are sharing that they are feeling tired, they have been having urges to eat more and that they are going to bed earlier lately. I have had clients that have been with me for several years now and it is easy to see that many react to the change of seasons. I was worried when I noticed myself this last week extra tired, wanting to eat more and feeling slightly melancholy. I was not feeling good about it until I realized I was not alone. One of my first thoughts was “Am I getting sick?” Some of my friends also responded to my extra early bedtime and desire to get more sleep, by asking if I thought I was getting a bug. I feel that I am not sick but that I am adjusting to the current temperature and daylight changes of winter approaching. Are the shorter days telling me to hunker down for the winter?
There is a diagnoses of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD.) When SAD was first discussed many people thought that there was not such a disorder. And yet it is now in our manual that assists therapists in diagnosing various mental health issues. I do feel that (SAD) occurs and it is helpful for people notice it early, and do things to buffer it and to counteract it. Seasonal Affective Disorder is also sometimes called the “Winter Blues.”
In the winter many animals hibernate. Several bears, badgers, some frogs, turtles, the Gila Monster, some mice, and butterflies all hibernate or are dormant in the winter months. I can’t help but wonder if we mammals somehow fall into a pseudo dormant life style as it gets colder. With my theory securely in place I decided to research “Human Hibernation.” To my surprise there were writings on the topic. Over a hundred years ago there were Russian peasants, along with villagers in France that practically slept the winters away. They did not eat much, they slept many hours and they did not do physical activities. During that time the article shared that people did not need to work for money like today and therefore they were able to be “dormant” for the winter months.
I feel that we are in a world today where it is impossible to follow our fellow burrowing mammals into a cave or underground for the winter, but many people’s bodies do initially respond to winter in similar ways. We end up eating more; we crave and make comfort foods, like stews, macaroni and Cheese, or meat loaf. Many of us also sleep more, are less active and put on a few extra pounds. I feel that this should be considered more normal than odd. We can notice these urges and embrace some parts of our need to slow down and conserve energy. This shift in behavior does not have to be too concerning and we do not have to beat ourselves up about staying home more and socializing a bit less. Although there are some times when the “Winter Blues” take a toll and turn into a bigger issue.
If you feel that you are one of the individuals that suffer from SAD, there are ways to counteract it. There are special lights that you can purchase, and sit in front of, that give you the effect that you are getting more light similar to summertime. It helps to stay active and work out. You also can get out in the sun on sunny days and adsorb some vitamin D. Another helpful hint is to continue to do things that bring you joy, and continue to socialize with friends. When feeling melancholy it is better to avoid drinking alcohol.
The things I do to feel good in the winter time is: hit the gym, swim laps, layer up and take my dog on a winter wonderland hike, go snow shoeing, and go to my friends’ houses for dinner. But if you feel like hibernating, give yourself a break! What are some things you do to fight the winter blues?