Do SAD, OLD and WINTER Lead to Depression?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder that causes people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year to suffer from depression at the same time each year, usually in winter. Here are the symptoms we’re all subject to:

  • Having low energy (the “blahs”)
  • Hypersomnia (wanting to sleep more than usual)
  • Overeating (compensation, boredom)
  • Weight gain (yep, the dreaded winter bulge)
  • Craving for carbohydrates (comfort food that doesn’t really bring comfort)
  • Social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”)

This information from WebMD provides tips on fighting the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. You don’t have to be SAD. Get outdoors early in the morning, if you can. If this is impossible because of the dark winter months, antidepressant medications or light therapy (phototherapy) may help. Wouldn’t a  “happy light” be a great gift for yourself or someone you know who is at risk? Other helpful tips: maintain a balanced diet and exercise program. As little as 20 minutes of exercise can boost the serotonin loss that may be a major contributor to SAD symptoms. And, of course, find a reason to be in touch with a friend or neighbor. In fact, I think “touch therapy” can be more useful than “light therapy” – it can help you fight the blues about getting older as well.

No one looks forward to being sad, old or distressed by winter. And guess what? They all have an element of “optional” to them. You don’t have to let the natural cycles of our seasons cause depression – not the weather, nor the seasons of your life.

Helping my parents go from 70 – 90 planted a fear of old age in my mind that led me to suffer a temporary depression. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helped me become aware of inaccurate or negative thoughts so I could begin to discern more clearly how my life trajectory would likely differ from theirs. I feel comfortable now that while aging is mandatory, growing frail and vulnerable doesn’t have to be. Our generation enjoys a longer post-career, post-child-rearing adult life than our parents. We also have excellent options available to us to help us stay physically and mentally fit. All we need to do is make good choices for ourselves.

Don’t fall prey to stereotypes: “the mid-life crisis”, “the empty-nest syndrome”, “the grumpy old maid.” Just as in the daily news “if it bleeds, it leads”, media coverage of older adults tends to emphasize the needy, the incapacitated, the confused. In reality, there doesn’t seem to be a drain on people’s happiness as we age. Public opinion surveys on happiness consistently show that older Americans are the happiest demographic group.

Take a look around. Winter and old folks may be gray, but gray can sparkle. Gray is “lovely, dark, and deep.” There are at least four months of winter ahead and who knows how many years? Look for the beauty at every turn. Enjoy every moment.

Stopping By the Woods On A Snowy Evening

by Robert Frost.

snowy road through forest

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it’s queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Tis the Season of Light ~ Happy Hanukah

hanukah menorahs