Get the ‘blues’ in winter? Feel down, depressed, miserable? Most people don’t enjoy large parts of winter and struggle with the lack of sunshine, pleasant temperatures and colour that other seasons afford us. However, you may struggle more than the average person, and your ‘blues’ may not be limited to the season of winter. Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as Seasonal Anxiety Disorder) is actually a mood disorder that can present as crippling depression and leave the sufferer feeling quite simply, ‘sad’, for no obvious reason.
Although not recognized officially until the early 1980’s, Seasonal Affective Disorder has been studied thoroughly and although it tends to occur in those who have a predisposition to mental health issues, it can also affect those who for the majority of the year are mentally stable.
It sounds fairly simple, that a lack of sunlight, the gloom and doom of wet and cold weather could make you depressed- but it’s not that straightforward. A small percentage of those diagnosed actually suffer from the ‘Summer Blues’. Yep: intense heat, dry weather, bright skies can actually lead to depression as well, characterized by bouts of anxiety, lethargy, decrease in appetite, depressive thinking, difficulty concentrating, withdrawing from friends and family, a feeling of “this will never end.”
How do I know? I’ve read about it over the years, and have noticed that for people that suffer the winter variety, there are methods used such as light box therapy to help improve their mood and lessen depressive thought cycles. For those with summer anxiety, it’s a little harder.
How do I know? Because I was diagnosed in my early twenties. It wasn’t much of a surprise as I have suffered from Panic Disorder, agoraphobia and mild OCD since I was 10, and have been medicated for Panic and Agoraphobia since I was 14. I also have Fibromyalgia, which makes me extremely sensitive to light, (as a result of medication my skin blisters when in direct sunlight) and this intensifies in summer. But how do I explain that both heat and light actually agitate me? Make me both anxious and edgy at a time when most people are at their happiest?
It hasn’t always been this way, I used to love tanning and frolicking at the beach, the drippy ice blocks, wearing a bikini and boardies, I didn’t hate summer. Around the age of 22, each summer became harder and harder, I hid in the darkness of my room, drew the curtains and blasted the aircon. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to avoid a whole season and there are times where I have to deal with the fact and accept that most people love summer and enjoy the warmth, the lack of rain, the activities that accompany summer: the beach, cricket, tennis, splashing round in the pool. And I understand that these are appealing qualities, I just struggle to enjoy them myself.
However, when I was diagnosed I decided that I didn’t want another ‘label’ to add to the collection and that if I was going to live with it, I certainly wasn’t going to engage in ‘victim’ style behavior. Initially I hid away and withdrew. My room was my haven. The blackout curtains, the air con- if I spent summer locked inside for three months, I’d probably be happy. But what kind of existence is that? And do I want to wallow in the depression or do I want to kick it firmly in the rear?
I still dread the onset of summer, and while I don’t enjoy it like many people do, I no longer view it as hell. I go out with friends. I slap on the sunscreen and swim, which I find deeply relaxing, laps and laps where I know my body benefits from the Vitamin D it’s getting, as well as the endorphins that are released by exercising. I eat lightly- I love summer fruits and use the heat as a motivator to eat plenty of fruit, veg and make sure I keep my fluids up, which in turn improves my fitness and overall health.
Having a reason for why I feel like this every summer is somewhat comforting, as it’s the season where so many people are at their happiest: holidays, sunshine, the beach, ice-cream, family time: I knew my aversion to summer wasn’t normal, but once explained to me I accepted that I could either give in to it and be a total Grinch, or I could try and change some of my attitudes and behaviours. When it comes to summer, I’m a work in progress. I live in an extremely hot part of Sydney and have no say in the matter. But I DO have a say in how I respond. So this summer, I’m trying to do more, stay active, not hide away like a vampire and work on my energy levels. I don’t want to be ‘sad’.
Have you ever experienced sadness or depression linked to weather patterns? How have you coped? Do you like sunlight?
Images in this post courtesy of Kent Marcus Photography
For more information on SAD watch this video: