SAD for a Season
Words by Emma Goldrick
It’s no secret that winter sends us all into a spiral of cancelled plans, Uber Eats and reality show re-runs. With the turning of the seasons we make excuses for ourselves to gain a few kilos and overlook the simple act of using a hairbrush. This feeling of tired days and lack of social participation has much less to do with you personally and more so the connection between weather and behaviour.
Weather conditions are innately connected to our disposition and the way we feel – meaning we should not underestimate its ability to affect our behaviour. Each year it becomes inevitable that when the sun begins to set earlier, and our hours of daylight are cut short, our social patterns begin to alter.
Sunshine has been directly correlated to an individual’s mental awareness and ability to concentrate, alongside a noticeable feeling of alertness and an increase in the length of positive moods! The emission of sunlight is able to affect people in a variety of positive ways, this is due to the stimulation of vitamin D that the light produces. After the body has obtained this vitamin D it subsequently prompts the brain's production of serotonin (the chemical compound that emits feelings of awakeness at its optimum levels, or feelings of depression when not enough is being produced). Therefore, sunlights connection to serotonin production consequently can lift an individual’s mood, affecting their daily behaviour.
The weather impacts our psychology in an array of complicated, yet subtle ways. Many people suffer from the typical winter blues, however the spike in seasonal depressive episodes must not go unnoticed, with estimates of 10 million Americans being affected annually.
A potent example of the weathers ability to fluctuate an individuals behaviour and mood is Seasonal Affective Disorder a specifier in the broader category of major depressive disorders.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression is directly linked to an individual’s brain chemicals and their unique sensitivity to light. Seasonal affective disorder is not bound to colder seasons but is linked to individuals’ depressive episodes that correlate to one of four seasons. However, the prevalence of SAD in winter is due to shorter days, reduced sunlight and the antisocial behaviour that is formed out of this.
Alfred Lewy MD a researcher at the Oregon Health & Science University, claims winter depression is concomitant with the specific time of day and the amount of light we are exposed to. In warmer months you wake to the morning sun glaring through your blinds and just like that, your circadian cycle is set for another day. In winter your internal body clock struggles to distinctively tell you when to be active and awake opposed to when you should be resting and asleep. This is to do with the circadian rhythm which is an internal process over-24 hours that regulates an individual’s awake to asleep ratio. The altered exposure to light stimulates a feeling of disruption to an individual's usual sleep pattern, this deregulation means they are inclined to sleep longer.
Society is now at a crossroads when attempting to ameliorate the winter blues. With complications in the diagnosis and treatment of winter blues, the healthcare industry is experiencing an astounding increase in the prescribing of antidepressants and other forms of mood stabilises in cooler months. One must question whether the use of antidepressants seasonally is the appropriate measure to combat weather-related moods. Lifestyle changes and preventative measures ought not to be underestimated in the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
With the growing reality of changing weather conditions, and the link this holds to individuals behaviour, state actors must take seriously the role of mitigating this potential crisis. State initiatives like Sydney’s Vivid Festival exists with the simple purpose to bring light to an otherwise dark evening and encourage individuals to remain socially active during winter. The festival which is operated by the NSW Governments Department of Tourism, was primarily founded as a response to Sydney’s winter suicide epidemic. The festival works to illuminate the night sky with an array of colours and sounds, engaging our sense that we otherwise shut off and neglect during the colder months. Sydney’s Vivid Festival creates a sense of inclusion, stimulating a community of like minded individuals that are brought together to admire and discuss a diverse range of topics encapsulated through the array of art mediums on display.
So, while this winter may be colder than the last, take comfort in the city lights & the knowledge that sunshine is only a season away.