I was lucky enough to make this past weekend a long one in Southern California visiting some friends. On our last day, right before heading to the airport, we stopped at a restaurant in Manhattan Beach. We realized it was two blocks from the beach, so we walked down after we ate.
We found a ledge to sit on and it felt like my eyes were trying to take in so much beauty that I swear I felt my pupils dilating. The pier was off in the distance and we wondered what was at the end of it. A restaurant maybe? The air smelled salty and sweet. Bicyclists rode by on the path below us. We stared in awe at the gorgeous beach houses lining the sand. And it was sunny.
For a moment, I had to close my eyes and take a deep breath, appreciating the warmth and light on my skin. I quipped, "I need to soak in as much Vitamin D as I can because it'll be four more months before I get it again in New York!" I was being silly, but I wasn't joking.
I take Vitamin D during the winters because my bloodwork has consistently shown every year that I'm deficient. My fellow New Yorkers will understand. This was something I never even thought about when I was still living in Southern California. Now, it's a necessity.
There was another thing, besides Vitamin D, that I was trying to soak in though - the mood I was in. For me at least, the sun is like a magic wand when it comes to my mood. I close my eyes, notice the sensation of the sun hitting my skin, take a deep breath, and my mood just...lifts.
This natural mood-enhancing-feeling, as much as Vitamin D, is hard to come by in the winter. In fact, I tend to notice this general gloomy feeling that lingers throughout the winter time. I have less energy, less motivation, less this, and less that. When the weather's really bad, it can become quite difficult to feel good at all.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is very real. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, SAD is:
Signs and symptoms of SAD include:
You probably can relate at least on some level to these symptoms during the winter, even if you live somewhere that doesn't experience too much cold or darkness during the winter. The idea of a seasonal change in physical symptoms and mood is nothing new. Humans have been experiencing this since the beginning of humankind. In fact, if you think about these symptoms listed here, they make a lot of sense for the winter time.
..(and prepare to do these things by, for example, eating a lot of carbs) while earth makes its natural cycle of the season. However, these days, many of us experience these symptoms, but our external lives don't allow us to actually slow down and rest. We still have to keep going and going and not miss a beat. Otherwise, our jobs, families, social lives, bills, and more will suffer.
Now, I should say that just because you experience some or all of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that you can be diagnosed with SAD. As with all mental health disorders listed in the DSM - 5 (what mental health professionals use to diagnose disorders in the U.S.), to be diagnosed with a disorder you must satisfy a certain number of criteria (which include these symptoms and more) as well as experiencing significant impairment to your daily functioning (work, social, personal, etc.) for a certain amount of time. So basically, there is a threshold of symptoms that are natural to experience during the winter. As the American Psychiatric, Association explains, "SAD is more than just 'winter blues'."
Whether or not you are experiencing SAD where you can't get yourself to do much or "just" the "winter blues" where you're still getting to work but feeling very gloomy, the symptoms are still there. Here are recommendations for dealing with these symptoms as you go through the winter:
As much as I wish I could've bottled up that Southern California warmth and sun and taken it back with me on the plane, I couldn't. So I will have to do with trying out these different methods until spring comes around (and running outside as soon as the sun comes out!) and getting creative with it. I may not have a natural source of Vitamin D or of that mood-enhancing-feeling I mentioned, but I can get a lot of books read and home yoga practiced - so that will do for now!