by Mia Cobb
A freaking weird thing happened two weeks ago. Without warning, my Facebook feed filled from top to bottom with declarations of laughter, happiness and love. It was so immediate, so unprecedented and so widespread amongst all my local Melburnian friends, that I wondered if there something in the water. Then I realised what was going on. We were having an unseasonal burst of sunshine and warmth. There was a north wind blowing and the day maxed out at a glorious 23 degrees Celsius.
For mid-Winter in Melbourne, this was more than a big deal. More than just a hat tip to all the peer-reviewed scientific literature confirming man-made climate change. It was a lifeline.
Seasonal affective disorder is real. That feeling when the days turn cold, of wanting to head into hibernation… preferably in a kid-free fantasy land that is lived under a doona, on a couch with a stash of chocolate and never-ending tea and favourite sick day films (you know we all have at least two – mine are The Lake House and The Notebook – don’t judge me, they work!)… is totally legit.
When winter ticks around, the amount of daylight reduces. This is the same cue that triggers birds to migrate to sunnier climes (how awesome is nature at showing us the way?!) and can trigger changes in our moods, energy levels, appetite and need to sleep. For some people, it can develop into serious depression that lasts until spring, when the days lengthen and warm up again. This winter depression is termed Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) by psychologists.
Patients suffering from SAD don’t have the typical features of depression such as insomnia and loss of appetite. Instead, they complain of hypersomnia (sleepiness) and overeating with a craving for carbohydrates, along with a depressed mood and lowered self-esteem. Their energy levels and concentration are low, and this slowed thinking leads to poor functioning over the winter months. Professor Phillip Boyce, The Conversation
SAD is more common in women and more commonly found the further you live away from the equator (everyone’s smiling in Honolulu, I’m sure of it!). Research suggests that SAD is linked to melatonin hormone levels, which in turn are moderated by our exposure to sunshine and bright light. If you ever watched the glorious TV series set in Alaska Northern Exposure back in the early 1990s, you might remember Holling’s two-week sleep hibernation and the famous hat with lights (don’t laugh, Sweden recently installed bus shelters with phototherapy lights to help when they’re in complete darkness – as in weeks when it never gets light – in Winter).
So what to do? Spending time outside – even if there’s no direct sunshine – is a natural form of treatment. It’s no wonder Champagne Sarah cited sunshine as one of her favourite things. A brisk morning walk is recommended, but if you still feel you’re struggling, don’t be a hero, ask your GP for support. Me? Well, two days after my Facebook feed turned golden and sparkly I headed to sunny Queensland for a blissful 10 days of work and holiday. Sheer bliss!