I think my Winter Blues are saying adieu!


I’ve posted before about my SAD (seasonal affective disorder). I also explained that for me, a sufferer of the Fall/Winter type (the most common type), I’m extremely sensitive to changes in daylight.

The Winter Solstice falls around December 21 or 22 every year. That’s the shortest day of the year, but also the last day the days are going to get any shorter. The next day, the sunlight-hours increase every day by increments of about a minute a day, as they march toward the Summer Solstice which falls from June 20 – June 22 every year.

I always noticed a darkening of my overall mood and loss of energy very shortly after the first day of summer, since the days are already becoming shorter even as they grow hotter. My body perceives these changes as early as mid-July!

There’s probably an evolutionary reason for this. Our distant ancestors were nocturnal, tree climbing, shrew like animals who may have needed to hibernate during colder weather to conserve energy and calories, while food was scarce. Many mammals today have a need to hibernate, and this tendency may have been retained in human genes to some extent, causing many of us to feel tired and depressed when they days begin to shorten. How nice if hibernation were an option for some of us humans!


Getting back to the topic at hand, my mood is already starting to improve, even though the first day of winter was only about 3 weeks ago (that long already???)
That’s early even for me. My body and spirits don’t usually start reacting to these increases until the end of January at the earliest.

But maybe my improving mood is due to more than just the lengthening days. Since I’ve been in therapy, I’ve been feeling a little bit happier and less anxious overall. For example, I have a serious car issue, but I’m actually not freaking out the way I would have a year or two ago. I’ve also noticed people are responding to me in a more positive way (or maybe nothing has really changed but I’m just perceiving they are perceiving me less negatively than before).

My creativity is increasing, and my motivation to write, and–I dearly hope I don’t sound narcissistic saying this–I think my writing lately has improved immensely and I’m beginning to find my humorous voice too and seeing how funny things can be I never would have found the humor in before.

I still have a long road ahead (my therapist thinks it’s going to take a while) and maybe this is just the honeymoon stage of therapy before the work starts getting really emotionally draining, but it’s a taste of what might be to come and I’ll enjoy this as long as it lasts.

My Seasonal Affective Disorder makes me want to hibernate until spring.

Graph I made showing my mood pattern throughout the year. It’s this way every year.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my SAD.

SAD is triggered by the lack of light and shortening days for those affected with it. During the shorter days the brain produces more melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone that induces sleepiness in certain animals, like bears. It’s the reason why some mammals hibernate until the warmer, longer days of spring. Unfortunately, some humans retain this biological urge to hibernate, but because we must continue to live productive lives, our natural urge to sleep is ignored and seasonal depression is the result.

I seem to suffer from a weird form of SAD. The fall is much more depressing to me than winter. Most people with SAD feel terrible in late fall AND all winter. But for me, I start feeling depressed sometime in mid-August, when the days are growing noticeably shorter. Obviously, for me, the heat as nothing to do with it.

My SAD really kicks in once Fall officially starts and the trees start changing colors. My worst months are by far November and December. I absolutely hate them. I can’t stand the holidays (too stressful), so they do nothing to lighten or bring cheer to my low mood. All I want to do is curl into a little ball and hibernate until early spring.

In mid-late fall, everything looks so grim and barren to me–shades of gray, brown, and black, and everything is dying/going to sleep. The cold, gloomy, overcast days don’t help either. It’s dark when I get up and dark when I come home from work. It’s everything I can do to drag myself through these dark, depressing days.

Although I hate ice and cold and snow, sometime around the end of January (which I read is statistically the most depressing month of the year) my mood begins to perk up as my body begins to notice the lengthening days. Actually, I feel relief after the first day of winter, just knowing the days are going to get longer for 6 more months. I feel even more relief once the Holiday season is over (which I find really stressful).

My mood continues to improve until mid-late spring, then starts to level off, until early August when it starts to sink again.

My mood is at it’s highest around the end of April/early May. I have no idea why. Maybe because the days are fairly long by then, but the oppressive heat (which I don’t really like) hasn’t kicked in yet.

I think it might also have to do with the fact there are so many happy colors in the spring–and they aren’t the dreary 1970s-like browns, golds and oranges of fall. They’re more like 1980s colors–or even 1960s colors in some cases (and weren’t both those decades less depressing than the 1970s?) Everything isn’t all the same boring shade of green the way it is in summer either. I love spring.

My body/brain seems to mimic the cycle of hibernating animals–except that in the winter I actually feel better than in the fall. That I can’t really figure out because I hate cold weather so much (and it’s coldest here in February, but my mood is not that bad anymore by then).

I face this same strange pattern every single year. I’m coming into the worst of it in about another month or so. Blah.

For further reading: How to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder/Winter Blues: