Seasons Can Affect How We Feel and Act

 Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Most people experience a change in their mood and behavior with the change of the season. 

These seasonal changes, especially the "winter blues," or "February blahs, "at the onset of winter, may be a nuisance for some and real problematic for many others. Seasons can cause changes not only in mood, but also in the energy level, sleeping, eating, social and sexual behavior. 

This is not a new knowledge. For ages, spring has been associated with joy, passion, and reawakening. Shakespeare said, "Sweet lovers love the spring." We know that for many of us spring outbursts in a "spring fever" or frenzy of "spring cleaning." 

Valentine Day is as much an attempt to beat the winter blues as it is to celebrate the "passion of spring." On the other hand, winter with its darkness, cold, denuded trees, unfriendly winds, and lonely confinement, can cause depressed mood and other symptoms of depression. 

We avoid the "cold" people and seek the "warmhearted." Incredibly, the mental health field has only recently recognized the relationship between seasons and mood disorder, "Seasonal Affect Disorder," appropriately abbreviated, "SAD." 

Note that everyone is not affected by seasons in the same manner or intensity. People can transcend seasons and feel what they want to feel about it. Shelley says, "If winter comes, can spring be far behind? 

For some, winter covers their entire vision. They cannot foresee the tulips and daffodils sprouting, just a little later in the spring, when the ground is frozen in front of their eyes. Only a few people can recognize that winter is the mother of spring. Likewise, some enjoy the beautiful colors and crisp weather of the fall while for others, fall forebodes the arrival of the winter.

So how "seasonal" are you? If you are the worst in any 60-day period of the year and then you improve distinctively as the season is over, you could be one. Keep a diary and see if you have a seasonal pattern. 

If you feel worse in the December to February months and you clear up later, you may have the winter blues. Fall, spring, or summer too can cause a seasonal disorder. Check if there is a seasonal pattern year after year, which affects the basic functions, namely, sleeping, eating, mating, social behavior, weight, mood, and energy level.  Things to do: 

1. Make your house light and bright. Raise up the curtains and blinds
so daylight can freely enter the house. 

2. Have enough natural or electrical light where you spend the longest time, home as well as the office. 

3. Spend at least half an hour daily outdoors, if weather permits. 

4. Go to a mall where there are other people and where you can move about freely. 

5. Find ways in which you can beat the "cabin fever. " Maybe you and the neighbors can organize an "anti cabin-fever get-together" . 

6. Exercise regularly, preferably outdoors, but, when the weather is inclement, switch to an indoor exercise program. 

7. If your circumstances allow, take a mid-winter vacation, preferably, in the sun- land. 

8. Hunger and craving for sweets and starches is common in SAD. People eat to beat the blues and many of them become "carbohydrate addicts. " Alarmed by the weight gain, they start dieting which makes them a "yo-yo weight changer. " To avoid that, eat balanced meals which are high on complex carbohydrates and protein, and low on fat. Consult a good meals chart and plan a seven-day program which is heavily biased in favor of vegetables, fruits, and

9. Depressed mood makes one sluggish and sleepy. Sleeping excessively may
actually increase depression. Therefore, force yourself to wake up in the morning, say 7.00 or 7.30 rather than 10.00 or 11.00, even on weekends. To warm up in the morning, engage in a brisk and/or pleasurable activity. Laughter of 15 minutes with a comedy or slapstick humor tape can get you going. 

10. Avoid excessive use of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, or any other substance to overcome sluggishness and lethargy. 

11. Light therapy for SAD is gaining respect and can be tried with other forms of treatment. For further information on light therapy, call The SunBox Company, 800-LITE-YOU, or Medic Light, Inc., 800-LIGHT-25, or Apollo Light systems, Inc., 800-545-9667, or Bio-Brite, 800-621-LITE. These companies specialize in the fluorescent light fixtures for light therapy. Since there is some concern about ultra violet light and its side effects or if you have a retina problem, consult an eye doctor before starting light therapy. 

Get an evaluation to check if you need counseling or medication. 

Lastly, people, who are affected by cloudy and gloomy weather, may benefit from what Shakespeare said, "Think not of the sky as spotted with clouds, but partly sunny. "

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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