by Dr. Leslie (Jack) Fyans
I have lived in the upper Midwest all my life but have always dreaded the winters. The gloomy weather depresses me. Do other people have this problem, or is it just me?
All of us are affected by our natural environment, and our bodies seem to be especially sensitive to weather conditions. Sunlight can lift our spirits. Conversely, a rainy or snowy day can make us feel gloomy. Normally, mild changes in mood do not affect our ability to cope with daily life. For others, however, such seasonal changes bring about a type of depression that can have a more serious impact on daily functioning. What you are describing might be this kind of depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). While research into SAD is ongoing, researchers believe its causes are related, among other things, to how the lack of sunlight affects our brain’s pineal gland. Another component of the disorder is related to seasonal variations in our brain’s “internal clock,” which regulates our sleep rhythm.
First, I recommend that you see your physician to determine whether or not you have this condition. Second, be aware of how the onset of winter affects you, and plan accordingly. Such a strategy might include activities that raise your spirits, such as exercising, reading a good book, or planning an evening with friends. I find that my spirits are lifted just by being around my grandchildren. People with SAD often find that spending time in a sunnier location brings relief from symptoms. If this is not a feasible option, spending more time outdoors during the day and arranging your environment to maximize exposure to sunlight is often helpful. For example, trim tree branches that block light, and keep curtains open during the day. Doctors have found that many people with SAD respond well to exposure to bright artificial light. This involves sitting beside a special light box for a prescribed amount of time each day. However, you should consult your doctor before beginning light therapy.
Reading Scripture and praying are always good “remedies” for God’s people. Unfortunately, depression can deplete one’s motivation to reach out for such help. You might begin by reading a brief portion of the Bible daily, followed by prayer. The Psalms are an especially rich source of comfort and encouragement. Finally, you have a valuable resource in your pastor. Because your church is in a northern clime, he may have experience helping other members with similar symptoms.
About the Author: Dr. Leslie (Jack) Fyans is a clinical psychologist and member of the Ministerial Health Committee of the LCMS Central Illinois District.