There is something humbling about cold temperature. If you take a second look, the cold has a natural calmness to it almost as if time is standing still. Ice has a feel of serenity to it that if tapped into properly, can help adjust one’s mental state. We all go through life struggling with our anxieties whatever they may be. Maybe it’s a business proposition we don’t dare to step up to or a faulty relationship that demands an icy end. Anxieties lie in all of our daily lives, but with the help of understanding ice and the myth of winter depression, maybe we can all learn to deal with our anxieties effectively.
So what is Winter Depression?
Well, according to a range of scientific articles, Winter Depression is scientifically known as S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder, which let’s face it is a hilarious attempt to name Winter Depression). The phenomenon is originated from your genetic code, ions in the air and existing chemicals in the brain. Those prone to S.A.D have been found to be particularly sensitive to light or the lack of it. And during winter, there is an obviously clear deficit of light. It is believed that a ‘phase-shift’ affects the way your internal clock works. In winter, when the clock moves an hour, we all lose a vast majority of sunlight. This creates the uneasy unbalance of when we are resting and when our bodies think we should be resting.
Ok… so this is a real thing that our bodies have to adjust to. But why doesn’t everyone have Winter Depression since we are all going through the same changes? Based on a study in Alaska, where no one can escape the dark void that is Winter Depression, only 9% of residents reported to having the S.A.D. syndrome. Mark, a resident of Fairbanks, Alaska was one of the many interviewed. And even though he pulls 12-hour shifts during the dark days, he has never suffered from Winter Depression. Instead, he said,
‘If you sit around the house and do nothing all day, I suppose it could eat at you. But there is always something for me to do to keep me busy.’
Is he fighting the inevitable dark days and keeping his mentality strong by keeping himself busy? A number of neuroscientists set out to discover the myths and legends of cold weather. A mass investigation involving approximately 35,000 young adults was held to challenge the notion of winter depression. It was found that there was no determining effect the season had on any of the participants’ mental states. Some were depressed or anxious during their usual habits, and others had random spurts of positive and negative emotions throughout the year. But not so much as a small drop of evidence came up suggesting Winter Depression is a real phenomenon.
So what is Winter Depression and why do we think it exists? Despite feeling sluggish during the winter, data in several studies have shown that the feeling of Winter Depression is a subjective one. Many people dislike the winter for obvious reasons, like the idea that darker months make us miserable. Or that the feeling of being cognitively impaired is affected by the fault of the winter-cold. One of the most natural metaphors in modern culture is to recognize winter as a time of abandonment and retreat. Even the oldest metaphors for winter have roots in loss, darkness, and miserableness. We should be aware of how our expectations of things create their reality. If you expect to be miserable during winter, chances are you will feel miserable. And you will be able to say, ‘Look! I told you the winter makes me depressed!’ Yeah, of course, it’s what most of us expect? We seek the proof in our expectations and create the reality by channeling our focus in the wrong way. When you’re feeling down, don’t blame it on the winter or the cold. Try to take responsibility and (if you have faced S.A.D. or Winter Depression in the past) look passed the winter to solve issues and anxieties in your everyday life.
In some sense, winter depression could be real, if you let it take over. In another study, composed by neuroscientists, came up with something quite fascinating. The study focused on how the time of year affects basic brain function. Where they asked men and women at different times of the year to answer questions about their mood and emotion. Through specific memory and reaction tasks, the participants were tested to see the difference during Winter and Summer. However, no strong evidence was found to suggest that winter depression is real… again? It was found that during the same tasks, brain activity was lowest in the winter and higher in the summer. Naturally, researchers jumped on the band-wagon to claim, ‘Look! Your brain works less well during the Winter!’. Hold on… The completion of the tasks was the same, yet the brain activity was less? If I can write 100 words in 100 seconds but during the summer my brain consumes more energy and during the winter less energy, which situation is more efficient? The only research supporting the notion has an evolutionary perspective. That during the winter, neural activity enters an ‘eco-mode’ allowing it to perform as well as it does in the summer but consuming fewer resources whilst doing it. This makes sense in evolution because when resources are scarce and the weather is harsh, many internal natural processes in our body switch to winter-mode.
Despite it all, here are a few things you can do to fight off the feeling that ‘Winter is coming’.
- Light Therapy: mimic the benefits of the sun through a lightbox (available online). Expose yourself to this light (works especially well in the morning). And prevent Melatonin hormones (sleep hormones) from taking over your body!
- Buy a lamp alarm: recently top brands have been releasing alarm clocks that work as light with only faint sound. These alarm clocks are reported to help you wake up in a natural, light-inducing manner
- Create a consistent sleeping routine: now that the sun is gone, and your routine is messed up. Change your routine and stick to a strict schedule. But make sure you get at least 7 hours of sleep.
- Aromatherapy: believe it or not but strong smells can really help. Buy essential oils (put them in your living room, or when you take a bath).
- Exercise often: the more depressed you feel the better exercise will be for you. It releases endorphins, pleasure hormones!
- 10-15 minute day walks: take walks when there is light. Now that the sunlight is gone, make sure you take advantage of whatever light there is by taking frequent walks!
- Keep a journal: according to multiple studies, writing down your thoughts and emotions helps you release them. When you are feeling down, write it down!
- Visit your doctor: If you have real issues with Winter Depression, see your doctor. If you have tried all the options above and nothing has worked, don’t sit around, seek help! Make sure to ask for Vitamin-D, the cure against lack of sunlight.
- Forget about Winter Depression: Winter depression exists if you let it… so forget about it. If you are down, tired, lonely or sad DO NOT blame it on the Winter. Excuses never solved issues!
Winter Depression is real… if you make it so. And it isn’t real… if you make it so, the power lays completely in your hands. So if you ever feel yourself down on winter depression, remember, it’s just a concoction of the mind. Winter depression is only as real as you make it, and if you’d rather not face the cold the best advice is to embrace it. Cold isn’t all that bad when you look at it subjectively, in fact, it can be argued that it brings people closer together as families prepare for the festivities of light (Christmas & New Year).