The Reality of Winter Blues

When I was ten I moved from the cloudy skies of Canada to the sunny beaches of California. At first I was appalled by the snowless winters of Los Angeles, the people wearing thick jackets when it was only 12 degrees Celsius (54 degrees Fahrenheit), and the palm trees covered in Christmas lights, as if they were determined to hang onto the summer heat.

Yet after awhile I grew accustomed to the perpetual sunny weather of the West Coast and learned to love basking under its golden rays. Soon, I was right there with everyone else and began complaining when winter rolled around (for the short period that it did exist on this side of the continent), muttering curses when I had to trade in my shorts for pants.

In high school I began noticing that during the winter months I became gloomy and depressed. The slight cold and temporary lack of Vitamin D seemed to dampen my spirits and I became the grumpiest teenager in the city. My temper shortened, I was annoyed at everyone for no logical reason, and I never wanted to venture past my bedroom door.

But as soon as spring arrived and the days became longer and nights shorter, my mood picked up again. This psychological pattern continued every year, until recently when I approached several friends and asked them if they ever experienced these “mood swings.” To my surprise, I was not the only one experiencing these drastic changes in temperament.

Many of my friends told me that the seasons played a big part on how they felt and their general dispositions. They explained how the shorter days and absence of sun during the fall and winter caused them to be inactive and lethargic. Thus, this lack of inactivity made them more likely to feel depressed.

Take, for example, Ellen Einkauf, a fourth-year resource economics major at the University of Connecticut, who moved from California to the East Coast four years ago. When asked if the longer nights and colder weather of Connecticut have affected her temperament she said, “Since it gets darker quicker here, there’s not as much sunlight to keep you awake. Since its cold you just want to stay inside and not do as much. I can’t wait to get back to California, the sun there is energizing and makes you want to go out and enjoy the weather.”

Although most people find that they get the blues during the winter and fall, some actually enjoy the prolonged nights and cold of these seasons.

“In the summer it’s so humid and dry that it’s hard for me to exercise and participate in social activities outside. The monotony of the constant sun without clouds bores me and the heat really irritates me and makes me uncomfortable,” stated Chris Sinclair, a fourth-year film and media studies major here at UCI. He explained that during the summer he feels “more moody and depressed,” whereas during the winter has “more energy” and is “happier.”

These seasonal mood changes are recognized as SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, a term first coined in the late 1980s. Although there is much debate on the causes of SAD it is generally known as a type of depression that is cyclic, recurring with the change of seasons. SAD is generally thought to be caused by the absence of light during the winter and fall months, adversely affecting serotonin levels in the brain and causing them to drop. However, this explanation remains questionable as the disorder has also been identified in individuals who experience depression only during the spring and summer.

So, what do you do if you think you have symptoms similar to SAD? Although antidepressants and phototherapy (regular exposure to fluorescent light) are sometimes prescribed to persons suffering from SAD, personally I have found that simply forcing yourself to hang out with friends and family despite your moodiness is the best therapy.

As I mentioned earlier, until recently I constantly holed myself up indoors and was extremely irritable during the winter months. Then, after approaching my friends and finding out that these symptoms are relatively common, I decided to actively change my habits during these cold months. I began exercising at least three times a week, hanging out with my friends more, frequently engaging in activities that I knew made me happy and keeping the general mindset that it was the weather that was making me gloomy, not the people around me or myself.

Remember, you’re not the only one experiencing these seasonal blues. Instead of letting the weather get the best of you, make the most of it and get out there!